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' :'». 

















[entered in stationers' hall.] 

Printed by Oliver dc Boyd, 
Tweeddale Court, High Street, Edinbiirgk. 


In this volume we have attempted to delineate tliree of 
the most smgular and interestmg oonntries on the £ace 
of the earth. Sitnated in the stonny ocean of the north, 
and far from the modem seats of ciyilisation, Iceland, 
Greenland, and Faroe, have nevertheless long attracted 
the notice of the student of man and of external nature. 
The first of them is distinguished not less hy its re- 
markable scenery and the frequency of the most awful 
and majestic phenomena, than by the peculiar charac- 
ter, the curious history, and the literary remains of its 
people. The physical features of the second, though 
less terrible, are perhaps equally grand, whilst the 
degraded condition of its native population, contrasted 
with the inhabitants of the two others, presents us 
with a striking proof of the beneficial influence of 
learning and religion in preserving even the corporeal 
powers of man from degenerating. In Faroe, also^ we 
behold a group of islands, the wild and rugged aspect 
of which might seem to have destined them only for 
the retreat of savages or pirates^ transformed by the 
same causes into the abode of a mild, peaceftil, and vir- 
tuous race. The connexion of the ancient possessors of 


these regions, both in peace and in war, with onr own 
countiy, and the numerous traces that still remain of the 
identity of many of their customs and laws with those of 
our ancestors, give us an additional interest in all that 
relates to them. 

Though united by position, and in ancient times by 
origin and frequent intercouise, still their complete dis- 
union by the ocean, and the varied course of their history 
and afiiurs, render it more proper to consider these coun- 
tries separately. We accordingly commence with Ice- 
land, presenting an outline of its physical condition and 
more interesting localities. Its magnificent chains of 
snowy jdkuls,it8yolcanoes with their appalling eruptions, 
its hot springs and jets of boiling water, its lakes, riyers, 
and fiords, its singular climate and curious meteorological 
appearances, are all successively described. The dis- 
covery and colonization of this lonely island, the customs, 
laws, mythology, and political institutions of its pagan 
inhabitants, are next noticed. To these succeed their 
conversion to Christianity, the changes thereby produced, 
and the causes that led to the composition of those his- 
torical and poetical works which shed a solitary ray of 
light on that dark age, and still charm the learned of 
modem times. But with its subjugation to the Norwe- 
gian yoke a new scene opens, rendered more melancholy 
by its contrast with the past ; and we gladly hurry over 
the moumfol relation of the physical evils, the neglect 
and oppression which then crushed the spirit of the 
nation ; dwelling with more pleasure on the benefits de- 
rived £rom their commerce with our countrymen, on 
the happy events of the Reformation, when some 


gleams of their ancient fire again burst forth, and on the 
brighter prospects opened to them for the future. In a 
concluding chapter, we endeayour to present the reader 
with a general view of the physical, social, moral, 
religious, and literary condition of the people, which, 
when compared with that formerly given of their pagan 
state, will enable him to estimate the influence of climate, 
as modified by a considerable degree of ciyilisation, on 
the corporeal and mental oiganization of man. 

Greenland, as it offers fewer objects of interest, is de- 
scribed with less minuteness. Its interior, occupied by 
vast fields of ice, presents little to detain us, and it is 
chiefly its coasts and fiords, on which most of the settle- 
ments are situated, that are calculated to attract the at- 
tention of the general reader. We accordingly notice 
their more remarkable appearances, as also those of the 
surrounding ocean with its icebergs, currents, and tides, 
the problematical structure of the land, and the various 
atmospherical phenomena, especially the 'effects of the 
intense cold, the splendid displays of the aurora, and the 
curious distortions produced by unequal refraction ; con- 
cluding with a short view of the more important settle- 
ments scattered over the extensive shores of that vast 
region. The position and history of the Icelandic colonies 
on the Greenland coast, their discovery of America, and 
the causes which probably led to their extinction, to- 
gether with the recent attempts made for their recovery, 
particularly the philanthropic labours of the venerable 
Egede and his successors, are next considered. The 
origin, appearance, character, manners, and actual con- 
dition of the Esquimaux in that dreary land are also 


discussed, together with the prospects of advantage which 
the European missions and commerce hold out both to 
them and to the mother-country. 

Nearly a similar order is followed in regard to Faroe. 
After describing the general features of the whole group, 
the precipitous clifis and isolated rocks, tenanted by in- 
numerable flocks of sea-fowl ; the lofty hills paved with 
basaltic columns, and stripped by the tempests of every 
vestige of vegetation ; the valleys traversed by mountain 
cataracts, on whose banks the natives place their solitary 
habitations ; the moist inconstant climate, and the various 
peculiarities of the individual islands ; we proceed to 
notice the history and character of the people, with their 
political, social, and commercial relations. 

The chapters on the Natural History of these regions 
are as full as the limits of our undertaking would per- 
mit, and, it is believed, contain a more complete account 
of their peculiar productions than will be found in any 
other EnglisbT work. Notwithstanding the deficiencies 
of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, the characters, 
varieties, and geographical distribution of both, and the 
ingenious uses to which the natives convert many species 
neglected in more fertile countries, are highly curious. 
The geology of Iceland, in regard to which the author 
has to acknowledge his obligations to the very able and 
interesting Memoir of Krug von Nidda, who first made 
known the true structure of it, will be found to contain 
many singular facts, less known in this coxmtry than 
they ought to be, concerning the long series of igneous 
formations which constitute almost the entire mass of this 
remarkable island* 


The importance of these subjects is best seen in the 
variety of works which have been published con- 
cerning them, in nearly all the languages of Europe, 
from the voyage of the Zeni to the recent splendid 
volumes of Gkumard and his coadjutors. The natives 
of Iceland have not been behind in this path, and 
some of the most valuable treatises on its history, 
antiquities, and physical features, are from their pens. 
Of these we shall only mention the Landnamabok, the 
writings of Are Frode and Snorro Sturleson, with the 
annals and sagas in ancient times ; and more recently 
the various works of Amgrim Jonas, Torfeus, Finnsen, 
Olafsen and Povelsen, Stephensen and Finn Magnusen. 
In other countries the labours of Anderson, Von Troil, 
Mallet, Schlosser, Miiller, Garlieb, Gliemann, Von Nidda, 
Legis, Marmier, and Gaimard, have also directed the at- 
tention of the public to this island ; whilst in Britain, the 
publications of Stanley, Mackenzie, Hooker, Henderson, 
Barrow, and the American Wheaton, show the interest it 
excites among our countrymen. The accounts of Green- 
land are also very numerous, but it is sufficient to men- 
tion the names of Torfeus, Anderson, Egede, Crantz, 
Saabye, Giesecke, Ross, Parry, Scoresby, and Graah, with 
the ** Antiquitates American©," and the " Historical 
Monuments of Greenland," by the Royal Society of 
Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen. Regarding Faroe, 
the books of Torfsus, Debes, Landt, and Hassel, the 
memoirs of Mackenzie, Allan, and Forchhammar, with 
the recent travels of Graba, are chiefly worthy of con- 
sultation. To these and many other shorter notices 
scattered through various English and foreign periodical 


worksy the Author has been indebted for the materials 
of the present volnme, and his more particular obliga- 
tions to each will generally be found in the Notes. 

The Maps have been carefully prepared from the best 
sources, and the Engravings are principally designed to 
illustrate some of the most remarkable natural appear- 
ances described in the work. 

Edinbuboh, Auffiut 1840. 




Sito&tioii and Extent — General Appearance — Coasts— Mo UK- 
TAiNs— Joknls — Formation and Appearance of Glaciers — Moan- 
tain Chains — Sneefield — Central Desert — Volcanoes — Hekla^ 
Eruption of, in 1766 — Krabia and the Myyatn— History of 
Tolcanic Phenomena— Submarine Eruptions — Volcano of the 
Skaptar Jokul — Quantity of Matter ejected— Fiordi — General 
Character— Utility to the People — Principal Fiords — Rivzbs — 
Jokul Rivers — Lakes — Not numerous — Myvatn — Thingvalla 
Vatn — Hot Springs — Geyser — History of it — View of an 
Eruption — Strokr — Theory of Geysers and Analysis of Water- 
Ale Springs — Clikate — Seasons— Temperature — Winds — No 
Change in Climate — Ancient Woods and Agriculture — Ice- 
Extreme Cold— Mock Suns— Falling Stars— Effect of Climate 
on Animals and Vegetables — Drift-wood, Page 17 



Ancient and Modem Division of the Island — South Amt — Reikiavik, 
History and Appearance — Videy — Printing-office — Reikianes 

~Es8ian Rdkholt Snorra-Iaug — Cave of Surtshellir — Skal- 

holt, deserted Appearance of— Thingvalla— Almannagiaa— West- 
manna Islands— Portland — Kirkiubaer— iVTor^^mt — Diupavog 

— Eskifiordr ^Vale of the Lagerfliot— Husevik, curious Statue-^ 

Grimaoe, unhealthy Climate — Holnm — ^Antiquities — West Amt 


— General Appearance — Mode of travelling in — Winds — Inha- 
bitants — Salt-works — Flatey — Sneefield — Helgafell — Stappen 
— Londragor — Elldborg— Banla, Page 70 




Pecnliarities of Icelandic History — ^Not the Thule of the Ancients — 
Naval Expeditions of the Old Scandinavians — ^Naddod discovers 
Iceland — Gardar — Rafha Floki — Papar, or British Christians 
— Ingolf, Founder of the Republic — Murder of Leif— Causes of 
Emigration — Mode of conducting it — Government — Division of 
Island — Hreppa — Poor-laws — Herads — Godar — Hereditary 
Magistrates — Courts of Justice— Old Oath — Lagmann — Althing 
— Christian Colonists — Thorwald, first Missionary— Okf Trygg- 
vason — Thangbrand — Gissur — Debate in the Althing — Con- 
version of the Nation — Heathen Manners — Religion — Temples 
— Sacrifices — Superstitions — Trials by Ordeal — Single Combat 
— Piratical Expeditions — Treatment of Women — Houses — 
Feasts, 87 



Influence of Christianity — Attempts to subjugate the Island — Olaf 
— Harald Hardrade — Appointment of Bishops — Tithes — Mar- 
riage of the Clergy — Chief Magistrates — Defects of the Consti- 
tution — Feuds of the Chiefs — Wars of the Sturlunga — Snorro 
Sturleson — His Connexion with Norway — Contests with other 
Leaders — Assassination — Character — Events after his Death — 
Burning of Flugumyra — Subjugation of the Island — Ancient 
LiTERATURB — Character of the Colonists — Traditions — Ancient 

Skalds — Influence of the Climate — Of Public Assemblies 

Political Character of Sagas — Refinement of Language — How 
preserved before Writing introduced — Runes — Subjects treated 
of— Manner of collecting Information — Number of Songs — 
Mythic Sagas — Historic — Heimskringla — Are Frode — Sturlunga 
Saga — Landnamabok — Poetry — Fictitious Sagas — Skalds — 
Language of Poetry — Resemblance to the Anglo-Saxon, 123 




Changes occasioned by Loss of Independence — ^Extinction of Litera- 
ture — Stability of Language — New Laws — Disputes of the King 
and Clergy— Papal Exactions — Crusaders — Hakon V. — Misfor- 
tunes in Fourteenth Century — Voyage of the Zeni — Commerce 
with England — English Bbhops — John Gerriksen — Destitution 
of the Island — Govemor slain by the English — Christian wishes 
to pledge the Island to them — Advantages of this Trade — Reli- 
gious Condition — Morals of the Clergy— Superstitions — Refor- 
mation—Opposed by Jon Areson— His Execution — Suppression 
of Monasteries — Translation of Bible — Gudbrand Thorlakson — 
Amgrim Jonas — Pirates in ScTenteenth Century — Commerce — 
Trials for Witchcraft — Smallpox in 1707 — Icelandic Revolution 
— Condosion, Page 167 



Descent — Unity of Character — Appearance— Disposition — Hospi- 
tality — Piety — General Education — Employments in Winter 
— Reading Sagas — Amusements — Music — Fishing— Hay-har- 
vest — Sheep-shearing— Journeys — Collecting the Iceland Moss 
— Food — Dress — Houses — Population — Births, Deaths, and 
Marriages — Diseases — Property — Agriculture — Commerce — 
Government and Law — Taxes — Ecclesiastical Establishment — 
Revenue of Clergy — Character — ^Education — School of Bessestad 
— Literary Habits — Present State of Literature — Theology — 
Classical Learning — Science— History — ^Poetry, 187 




Opinions of the Ancients — Form and Position — Coasts — Hills — 
Interior— Fiords — Iceblinks and Icebergs— Currents and Tides — 


Springs-— Riven — ^Is Greenland a Continent ?— Climate — Tem- 
perature — Seasons — Aurora — Unequal Refraction. Tofogka- 
PHT—^AreticHigUands—DisooIsIand—Saal'sRiver— Frederick's 
Hope->Frolttsher*s Straits— Juliana's Hope— Sermesoalc-Jred- 
erieksthal— Cape Farewell— Bast Coast— Qraah's Voyage— ItI- 
mint — Taterat— Peculiar Appearance of the Natives— Nennor- 
talik— Griffenfsldt's Island— Ekallumnt tlie Greenland Para- 
dise — Colberger Hade .. Seoresby's Voyage — Gale Hamke's 
Land — Proof of its being inhabited — Jameson's Land — Traill 
Island— Situation of the Ancient Colonies, ...Page 222 



DiscoTeryby Gunnbiom — Colonized by Erik Raude — Conversion to 
Christianity— Leif — History of Vinland — ^Biame — Thorwald 

slain by the Skrellings — :Thorfinn— Other Voyages thither 

Vinland America — Subjugation of Greenland — Government- 
Bishop's Voyages to the North — Loss of Colonies — Erik Walck- 
endorff attempts to recover them — Voyages of Heinson, Davis, 
Lindenow, Danel, &e. — Mission of Hans Egede — Difficulties and 
Success — ^Egede's Return Home — Benefits of the Missions— 
Natives^Origin and Appearance in the Country— Ancient In- 
habitants of America — Character — Vanity — ^Morals — Religion — 
Conjurors — Government — Sciences — Language— Food — Houses 
—Tents — ^Dress — Boats — Family Relations — Amusements — 
Burials — ^Employments — Commerce — Conclusion, 254 




Situation and Extent — Appearance — Precipices — Hills— Rivers^ 
Springs — Sea — Whirlpools — ^Climate — Limit of Agriculture- 
Temperature of Air and Springs — Winds. Tofogbafhy — Fugloe 
Bordoe—Oesteroe— Curious Rocks — Stromoe — Thorshavn — 


Kirkeboe— Bird Moimtainr—yaagoe—MyggenaBr-Skaoe— Store 
IMmon — Dangerous Roada — Snderoe. Histobt— Discovery — 
Sigmimd Bresteson— Conrersion of the NatiTei — Sabjogation 
by Norway — ^Pirates— Reformation— .Plundered by PriTateers. 
IxHABiTAifT8—Appearance-.Character— Morality— Hospitality 
—Food — ^Dress— £mployment^^Fishing-.Catching Whales — 
Seals — Bird-catching — ^Agriculture — Gardening — Cattle — Po- 
pulation — Diseases— Commerce — ^Ecclesiastical Condition — Civil 
GoTemment, Page 303 



Greenland — IczLAND^Geographical Distribution of Rocks^TiiAP 
Fo&KATiOK — Stratification — Regularity and Distinctness- 
Size — Veins — Extent— Walls of Diupavog— Horizontal Columns 
—Formation of Fissures — Constituents of Trap Rocka — Under 
Division — Neptunian Strata — Basis of the Island — Surturbrand 
— Fossil Plants — Date of these Strata — Upper Trap Rocks- 
Transition to the Trachyte — Origin of Trap — Tbacbtts Fob- 
MATioN — Appearance and Composition — Cavernous Lavfr— 
Origin of Jokul Mountains — The Baula— Elevation of the 
Island — ^Recznt Fobmations — Lava — Arrangement of Vol. 
canoes— Guldbringe Syssel — List of Volcanoes and Eruptions- 
Aqueous Deposites — Fossil Shells — Elevation of the Land — 
Effects on Climate — MnniBALs — Calcedony — ZeoUtes— Ice- 
Umd Spar — Copper — Obsidian— Sulphur_Mines of Krisuvik — 
Httsavik_Geology of Fabok— Trap— Tuffa— Coal— Dip- of the 
Beds — Veins— Conglomerate — Irregular Greenstone — ^Bone Bed 
—Mineralogy— Aqueous Formation of Zeolite, 339 



Causes of scanty Vegetation— General View— Comparative Table 
of Natural Families — ^Faroe Islands— No Woods— Plants found 
there, but wanting to the Others— Plants used for Food— Height 
of Vegetation on the Mountams— Greenland— Deficiency of Ve- 


getation — Dwarfed Appearance of the Trees — Iceland — Compa- 
rison with Scotland and Lapland — Cryptogamous Vegetation 

Trees and Shrubs — Distribution of Vegetation — Plants in voU 
canic Soils — Near the hot Springs— Useful Plants — The Sand- 
corn — Birch — Willows — European Character of Vegetation- 
Iceland Moss,.. Page 376 



General View of animated Nature in these Climates — Mammalia 
— Domestic Animals — Rein-deer — Fox — Polar Bear — Intro- 
duction on the Ice — White Hare — Greenland Mouse — Iceland 
Mice ferry Rivers — Seal — Morse — Cetaceous Mammalia — La- 
mantin — Dolphins — CaUng Whale — Narwal — Cachelot — 
Common Whale — Gradual Extinction— Orkithologt — Eagle 

— Jerfalcon — Owls — Crows — Raven — Grouse — Finches — 
Plover — Lapwing — Heron — Oyster-catcher — Singing Swan 
— Ducks — Eider Duck — Societies of Birds — Puffins — Auk — 
Cormorant — Solan Goose — Gulls — Skuas — Petrels — No Rep- 
tiles in Iceland or Faroe — Ichthtology — Salmon— Trout 

— Capelin — Eels — Herring — Cod — Remora — Flat Fish — 
Sharks — Molluscous Animals — Crustaces — Insects — Radiated 
Animals, 388 


Map of Iceland, To face the Vignette. 

Vignette— View of the Coast near Stappen. 

The Great Geyser, Page 68 

Map of the Faroe Islands, To face page B03 

Geological Sections, Iceland...... To face page Q40 







Phyncal Geography of Iceland. 

Situation and Extent — General Appearance — Coasts — Moun- 
tains — Jokuls — Formation and Appearance of Glaciers — Moun- 
tain Chains — Sneefleld — Central Desert — Volcanoes — Hekla — 
Eruption of, in 1766 — KrabU and the Myratn — History of vol- 
eanic Phenomena^— Submarine Eruptions — Volcano of the 
Skaptar Jokul — Quantity of Matter ejected— Fiords — General 
Character— Utility to the People-^Principal Fiords— Rivers — 
Jokul Rivers — Lakes — Not numerous — Myvatn — Thingvalla 
Vatn — Hot Sfrinos — Geyser — History of it — View of an 
Eruption — Strokr — Theory of Geysers and Analysis of Water — 
Ale Springs — Climate — Seasons — Temperature— .Winds — No 
Change in Climate — Ancient Woods and Agriculture — Ice — 
Extreme Cold— Mock Suns— Falling Stars— Effect of Climate 
on Animals and Vegetables — Drift Wood. 

No region of the globe will to the attentive eye be found 
destitute of objects fitted to gratify an enlightened 
curiosity. Thus, the countries we are about to describe, 
though at first they may seem barren and uninvitingy 
wiU on a closer consideration display many of the most 


singnlar and magnificent phenomena of nature, amidst 
scenes of wild grandeur unknown in more fertUe lands^ 
contrasted with pictures of gentler heauty, not the less 
pleasing that they are uneitpected. It is the same with 
the people who inhahit them ; their strikingly peculiar 
character exhibiting many dark and gloomy features of 
savage life, relieved by virtues seldom observed in more 
advanced stages of society. Though deprived of every 
other attraction, those lonely islands would deserve at- 
tention^ inasmudi as they manifest the power of the 
human race to adapt themselves to all situations, and to 
provide the means of subsistence in circumstances ap- 
parently themost unfavourable. The political and literary 
history of Iceland presents us with stUl higher viewa^ 
— proving that there is no place, no physical conditions^ 
in which mankind are necessarily barbarians ; that the 
rudest and most uncultivated countries, the most deso- 
late and inhospitable regions, may become the abode of 
nations participating in the highest qualities of our 
common nature ; that the chill winds and snow-clad 
rocks of the North cannot quench the fires of the poet's 
ifnagination, nor blight that feeling of devotion which 
leads man every where to recognise the presence and 
power of his Creator. 

Iceland is, next to Great Britain, the largest island in 
Europe, its surface being about a fifth part greater than 
that of Ireland. It lies in the midst of the Northern 
Ocean, and, as it approaches nearer to Greenland than 
to any European country, is by many geographers re- 
garded as belonging to America. Having, however, been 
first discovered and peopled from Europe, and being in 
other points more closely related to this continent, it 
seems proper to consider it as forming a portion of the 
eastern half of the globe. It is situated between 13° 20' 
and 24° 31' of west longitude, and between 63° 23' and 
66° 33' of north latitude, being nearly in the same 
parallel with the Bay of Trondheim in the Old World, 
and with Behring's Straits and Baal's River iu the New. 
Its most northern point, Re&nes^ between the Axar and 


Thistil fiords scarcely touches the arctic circle, whilst 
the North Cape, thongh in most maps placed consider- 
ably to the north of this line, does not reach it. The 
greatest extent of the land is &om east to west, measur- 
ing from the two most distant points, Fuglebiarg and 
Reidaren, above 320 miles ; its breadth from Reikianes 
to Langanes is 300, and, at an average, about 180 miles. 
It is calculated to contain nearly 38,230 square miles^ 
of which, however, only a ninth part or 4250 miles is 
inhabited, the remainder being covered with naked 
mountains of ice, or valleys rendered equally desolate by 
lava and volcanic ashes.* 

Few countries present a more repulsive aspect than 
ihis land of snows, which even in its external figure bears 
the marks of those convulsions that deform its surface. 
It looks almost like the fragment of some former world 
that has alone escaped destruction, confirming the 
opinion which regards it as a portion torn from the 
bottom of the sea by the expansive energies of fire. 
Its dark rugged coasts sometimes rise into lofty pre<^ 
cipices, against which the ceaseless waves beat in vain ; 
at other times, the rocks rent asunder give place to long 
narrow fiords, in whose calm waters the mariner, escaping 
from the stormy ocean, finds a safe retreat. The southern 
side alone is flat and sandy. But there also numerous 
shoals, quicksands, and breakers, expose the poor fisher- 
men to great danger, and render it almost impossible to 
Jand in safety. From Hammar Fiord to Ingolfshofde 
long banks of sand, some of them nearly two miles 
broad, guard the shore, and in other parts numerous rocks 
or skerries defend it from the waves. 

The attenti(m of the i^ctator approaching this polar 

* GUemaxm, Beschreibong tou Island (Ahona, 1824), pp. 7, 
8, 9. Great inaccuracy prevails in the old maps regarding the 
position of Iceland, most of them, as above stated, placing the 
korth Cape in ftr too high a latitude. According to 01at'sen*s map 
ito eKtent would be 5H,600 square miles (2^ti5 German miles); 
Ewer's reduces it to 29,83S (1405 German miles). Hassel, Erd- 
1)eichrd]jiuii,' Vol. x.' p. 216. 


island for the first time is usually arrested by the snowy 
mountains or Jokuls.* Long before the coast is visible, 
they rise like small white clouds in the distant horizon, 
becoming more distinct in their outline as he draws nearer 
the land, and are at last plainly recognised as a mass of 
lofty mountains. Sneefield, though by no means one 
of Uie highest of these, is yet seen even beyond the 
Westmanna Isles, more than 140 miles off, towering 
far above the intervening Country ; and Sniofell, on the 
other side of the island, is visible when distant nearly 
one himdred miles. Notwithstanding the cheerless ap- 
pearance of these piles of everlasting snow, they are, 
from their colossal grandeur, objects of great beauty 
and sublimity. When irradiated by the beams of a 
bright sun they shine forth in extreme splendour, glis- 
tening with the most dazzling lustre, and tinging the 
whole atmosphere with a golden hue.t 

The mode in which these jokuls are produced closely 
resembles that of the glaciers of the Alps and Pyrenees, 
though the climate, from its low temperature and abun- 
dant moisture, is &r more favourable to their increase. 
The rounded forms of the trachyte mountains permit 

* This word means ** ice" or ** an icy mountain," and is derived 
from Juki, ' * a fragment of ice." Similar words are found in other 
languages ; as the Jaa of Finland, in Lapland Joa, the Hungarian 
Jeg, and even the Persian Jach, The Jbcher of the Swiss, though 
similar in sound, has probably a different root. In Norway these 
icy fields are called G^kl^ and in Lapland Jegna, In the Alps they 
have different names in different countries, being named Kas near 
Salzburg, Ferner in the Tyrol, and in Savoy Uuize or Glacier, 
-bv whidi last they are generally known in this country. The 
higher part of these mountains is m general covered with snow, the 
ice beginning at a lower elevation, seldom exceeding 7000 to 9000 
feet, ^in^ most frequently from 4000 to 5000, and even so low as 
3300. It is a curious fact that the miners in Saxony and the Hartz, 
who first received their art from Sweden, still call the ice-like 
crystals found in the drusy cavities in the copper mines, and those 
concentrated from the vitriolic water, Joekel or Joekelgut, but 
without any knowledge of the meaning of the word. Anderson's 
Nachrichten, p. 2. Landnama, p. 492. Ho£Fmann's Erde, p. 168. 

t Olafscn's Reise, theili. p. 152. Krug von Nidda, Karsten*s 
Archiv. vol. vii. p. 456. Henderson's Iceland (2 vols. 8vo, Edin- 
burgh, 1818), vol. ii. pp. 31, 136. 


the snow that falls in great profusion during the winter 
months, and in smaller quantities even in summer, to 
rest on their tops and sides. The beams of the sun in the 
hot season, though strong enough to melt part of 
this during the day, are not sufficient to preserve its 
temperature above the freeiing point, so that the water, 
sinking down into tiieimder portion, is again congealed, 
and binds the whole into a solid lump of ice. The fogs, 
which rising from the surrounding ocean are attracted 
towards these mountains and condensed in the form of 
snow on their cold summits, at once augment and con- 
solidate the mass. When the jokul is once begun, its 
smooth shining sur&ce reflecting the sun'srays diminishes 
still further their dissolving influence. The principal 
situation, therefore, for the formation of these glaciers is 
near the line of perpetual congelation, where the sun 
in the day has power to melt the snow, but not to keep 
it fluid during the night. The ice thus produced, 
though hard and thick, is seldom so pure as that which 
is produced in the usual manner, but contains nume- 
rous particles of earth, sand, and even small stones,^ 
either carried thither by the winds or washed down 
from the rocky peaks which pierce its surface, and 
has in the warm months, unless when covered by new 
snow, a dirty gray colour. It also contains many round 
or elliptical cavities filled with air, generally of small 
dimensions, though sometimes half a foot in diameter. 
In summer, a variety of circular holes from one to three 
feet in diameter, run in a winding direction into the ice, 
and are usually filled with very cold clear water of a 
pleasant taste. These are probably produced at first by 
some stone or other substance which is more easily 
warmed than the ice ; and when water is once formed in 
these holes it continues to descend, owing to its having 
its greatest density at seven or eight degrees above the 
freezing point. The newly formed fluid, being thus 
lighter than that at the top, ascends, and the latter 
descends, in a perpetual circulation till the whole mass 
of ice is penetrated. Equally curious are the black 


pyramids of sand cemented by the congealed water, 
which rise like immense sugar-loaves, four, eight, or 
sixteen feet above the sur&ce, and are found on most 
of the jokuls. 

Happy would it be for the inhabitants did these icy 
fields remain in the place where they are first formed, 
only dooming the summits of the mountains to eternal 
sterility. But year after year the accumulating snows 
add to their bulk, till, the resistance offered by the sur- 
fece on which they rest being overcome, they invade the 
plains, laying waste the narrow fields and scanty pastures 
of the natives. Instances frequently occur when the Ice- 
lander, returning after years of absence in a foreign land 
to spend the evening of his life in the home of his child- 
hood, finds its green valleys a desolate wilderness of ice. 
Often, where the declivities are more abrupt, the snow 
suddenly loses its equilibrium, and rolls down with im- 
mense fury and a loud noise, which heard in the still 
night resembles distant thunder. The internal fires that 
still glow in the bosom of many of these jokuls fre- 
quency hasten this catastrophe by destroying the slight 
hold the ice has on the mountahi, and, converting the 
under-stratum into water, float it all down into the 
valleyB. It seems to have been in this way that the 
Breidamark Jokul, now twenty miles long by fifteen 
broad and 400 feet high, was formed. It fills a wide 
plain surrounded by high hills, and which, till the 
eleventh century, or even later, was a beautiful vale 
adorned with grass fields, woods, and &rms. In the 
thirteenth, and especially the fourteenth century, all 
the volcanoes in this quarter of the island were in 
motion, and the adjoining country was completely deso- 
lated by floods of water mingled with ice. Of this plain, 
first inhabited by Hrollaug, a nephew of the &r-famed 
Rollo of Normandy, only a narrow strip of sand re- 
mains, and even this relic the glacier and the ocean 
seem about to destroy. The jokul consists of whitish- 
gray ice divided from north to south into long narrow 
h^dfl^ firom which project numerous pyramids, closely 


resembling masses of saltpetre. On the eastern bank of 
the Breida river Olafsen saw a wall of ice nearly sixty 
feet high penetrated by round holes one or two feet 
in diameter, from which clear cold water was gushing 
out. When seen by this traveller, the Jokul river, 
the shortest yet m(^ dangerous in Iceland, was five 
miles long, but when Henderson visited it fifty years 
after, its course was reduced to one mile. The inhabit- 
ants still point out the ruins of a church, and the tomb- 
stone of a renowned warrior who dwelt here in more pro- 
pitious days.* 

Most of these jokuls are found in the two parallel 
chains which, separated from each other by a deep 
▼alley, cross the island in a direction from north- 
east to south-west. These mountains have had great 
influence both on the civil and physical condition of 
the country, and give to it, exclusively of the northern 
peninsula, nearly an oblong form. The more extensive 
of these chains is that on the south-east, which, com- 
mencing with the Smorfield near the Vapna Fiord, 
extends to Sniofell, whence, spreading out into the 
Thrande and Hofs Jokuls, it almost touches the shore 
in the valleys of the Alfta and Home Fiords. Farther 
south follow the Klofia Jokuls, said to cover not less 
than 3000 square miles, and remarkable for their constant 
encroachment on the land which separates them from the 
coast. The strip of sand, here usually not more than a 
mile broad, is diminishing every year, and it is feared 
that even the present dangerous path, which is the only 
communication between East and South Iceland, will 
soon be intercepted. Towards the west the chain is pro- 
longed by a continuous plateau of ice known under the 
various local names of the Skeidars, Sida, Skaptar, 
Tor&9 and Myrdals or Katlegia Jokuls, till it ends on 
the coast with the Oester Jokul, which forms one of the 
first landmarks to those approaching Iceland from the 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. i. p. 52; th. ii. pp. 90, 91, 120. 
Henderson, vol. i. p. 237-244. Landnama, pp. 902, 307. 


south. The whole length of this range of mountams is 
above 200 miles. Only three of its more remarkable 
summits, — Orae&, 5927 feet, the highest mountain in 
Iceland ; Smorfield, 5755 feet ; andEyafialla, or Oester 
Jokul, 5685 feet, — ^have been measured; but others, 
Tor&9 Skaptar, Sida, and Skeiders, mentioned above, 
seem little short of this last, and Sniofell, seen from, the 
sea at the distance of nearly one hundred miles^ must 
therefore considerably exceed 5000 feet.* 

The other chain of jokuls follows the north-western 
border of the central valley, and &om its position in the 
interior is less known than the former. In the south it 
begins with the Skialdbreid, or '* Broad-shield," north- 
wards from the Thingvalla Yatn, and is succeeded hy 
the immense ice-field known as the Bald, Elriks, and; 
Greitlands Jokuls, whose dazzling snows present a strik- 
ing contrast to the dark lavas that fill the greater part 
of the plain. The Ho& Jokul, seventy nules long, at 
the sources of the Oe or Eya Fiordsase, terminates this 
range, the whole length of which is only about a hun- 
dred and twenty. No certain information has been 
communicated regarding the height of this ridge, which, 
however, when compared with the former, from the top 
of Hekla situated between them, seems by no means in- 
ferior to it, and may therefore average more than 5000 

Other mountains of this character occur in the north- 
em part of Iceland, of which the Glama and Dranga 
Jokuls are the most remarkable. These seem merely 
the more lofty points of a semicircular group which 
forms the nucleus of that singular peninsula, but owing 
to their remote situation are little known. Sneefield, 
between the Breida and Faxa Fiords, is also mantled with 
perpetual snow, and from its isolated position appears one 

* Krug von Nidda, Karsten's Archiv. vol. vii. pp. 449, 456. 
Henderson, Introd. p. 9. Gliemann's Island, p. 90-103. 

t Krug von NidaJBi, Karsten's Archiv. vol. vii. p. 457. Olaf- 
86a*8 Reise, th. ii. p. 133. 


of the loftiest and most magnificent in the island. Its 
height is not well ascertained^ — Olafsen and Povelsen 
making it 7052 feet, while Mackenzie reduces it to 
456By — ^boih from trigonometrical measurements. As the 
instruments of the two former were confessedly very 
imperfect, the result obtained by our countryman is 
probably nearer the truth, which we may assume at 
about 5000 feet. The mountain is distinctly yisible 
from Reikiavik, and the view from its summit is noble 
and commanding.* 

The external form and linear arrangement of these 
rocky masses leave little doubt of their volcanic origin, — 
a &ct which is confirmed by the mineralogical character 
of their contents wherever they have been examined. 
Still more terrible proof has in many instances been 
given when the latent fire within their bosom has 
burst forth with unexpected fury, tearing up the icy 
sheet which hid all former indications of its exist- 
ence. Some of the most destructive eruptions have pro- 
ceeded from jokul mountains ; but we shall reserve our 
notice of them until we come to treat of these pheno- 
mena in general. 

Between the snowy chains now described lies the great 
desert of Iceland, whose unknown regions form the scene 
of many superstitious terrors to the natives ; and in- 
deed, the lonely and desolate aspect of this district can 
scarcely be exceeded by any other region on the earth. 
Age after age, volcano on volcano have poured their 
stony floods over its sur&ce, till it has become almost 
one black scorified field. Immense masses torn from the 
neighbouring mountains, and wide chasms, every where 
interrupt the progress of the traveller, whilst the mag- 
netic influence of the rocks renders the x^it 'P^^ useless 
as a guide. Long tracts of volcanic sai^u^ interspersed 
with huge insulated fragments of lava, can scarcely be 

* Kru^ von Nidda, Kanten*s Arcbiv. toI. vii. p. 468. Hender- 
son, vol. li. pp. 36, 42. Olafsen's Reise, tb. i. pp. 144-154, 202. 
Mackenzie's Travels in Iceland (4to, Edinbargb, 1811), p. 172. 


said to diversify the scene. In these wastes no springs 
of water refresh the traveller, who, as in the deserts of 
Arahia, must carry a supply along with him. No hird^ 
no beast, scarcely even a plant or humble moss relieves 
the tedium of the journey, or expels the feeling of lone- 
liness that weighs upon his spirit. Where the internal 
fixes have been most active, hills are tossed on hills in 
inextricable confusion, of which even the tempestuous 
ocean furnishes but a faint image. In other quarters 
magnificent glaciers of green transparent ice occur, whilst 
the volcanic scoriae with which they are often mixed, 
exhibit a strange contrast, though one strikingly charac- 
teristic of this land, where fire and ice seem ever con- 
joined, and yet ever contending for the mastery.* 

Little information has been obtained regarding the 
interior of this region, as few travellers have lately 
penetrated beyond the tracks that skirt its margin. In 
former times there were more of these crossing from 
the one side of the island to the other, deeper into this 
desert, but they have been long neglected, and the enter- 
prise of the natives is not such as to excite hopes of their 
being again frequented. It appears, however, to form a 
plateau of no great elevation, from ninety to one hun- 
dred miles wide, extending across the country from 
north-east to south-west. In this plain rise low rocky 
ridges, separating it into smaller valleys, though their 
height is too inconsiderable, compared with the huge 
lateral chains, to break the uniformity of the whole. 
These run from south-west to north-east, parallel to 
the mountains on the sides, and when seen from the 
top of Hekla seem like furrows on its surface. In its 
centre is a long narrow valley, stretching from shore to 


* In the appropriate words of the old poet : — 

Sed, quamvis nimio fervens exuheret aestu, 
Scit nivibus servare fidem, pariterque favillU 
Durescit glacies tanti secara vaporis, 
Arcano defensa gela, famoque fideli 
Lambit contiguas innoxia flaroma pruinas. 

Claudian, Rapt, Pros, lib. i. v. 165-169. 


shore in the same direction. This desert is only visited 
by the natives in the summer months, when the women 
pitch their tents on its borders whilst gathering the fial- 
lagrass or Iceland moss. But even then their dread of 
robbers and of other still more formidable though ima- 
gmary beings, with whom their fency peoples the wild, 
seldom allows them to penetrate far into the interior^ 
The flocks of rein-deer that sometimes issue from it, 
might afford reason to conclude that it contains some 
portions less barren than those which are at present best 

We have already noticed the volcanic nature of the 
jokuls on the side of this plain ; and numerous cones 
of a similar origin are spread over its surface, of which 
the best known are Krabla and Hekla, the former closing 
its opening on the north, while the latter shuts it on the 
south. Hekla, or, as it is called in the country and in the 
old annals, Heklufiall, though by no means the most dis- 
tinguished among the Icelemdic mountains either for its 
height or picturesque appearance, has yet attracted the 
chief attention both of the natives and strangers. Its 
neighbour, the Trehyming, or Three-homed Mountain, 
though only 2860 feet high, is said far to surpass it in 
beauty. But the situation of the former, near the most 
frequented part of the island, and in sight of vessels sailing 
to Greenland and North America, joined to the frequency 
of its eruptions and its facility of access, have all con- 
tributed to this celebrity. Its height, according to 
the measurement of Messrs Ohlsen, Vetlesen, and Fri- 
sack, is 5110 feet, and itf^s circumference at the base is 
from fifteen to twenty miles. It lies completely iso- 
lated from all other elevations, in the midst of the 
valley we have described, and is about thirty miles 
from the coast. It contains little solid rock, consisting 
chiefly of fragments of lava and scoris mingled with 
ashes, pumice, and half-melted stones bound together 

* Henderson, vol. i. pp. 64-73, 348, 363 ; vol. ii. p. 198-203. 
Krag von Nidda, Karsten's Archiv. vol. vii. p. 427 ; voL ix. 
p. 248. Olafsen'8 Reise, th. ii. pp. 68, 73, 122. 


by the streams of dissolved matter that have issaed like 
veins from its sides. Near the foot it is surrounded by 
glazed walls or cllfiSy from forty to seventy feet high, 
composed of beds of lava, up which travellers, in many 
places, have to creep on their hands and feet. 

The shape of Hekla is nearly that of a regular cone, the 
sides of which rise at an angle of d6® with the horizon, 
and it is divided near the top into three peaks, the one 
in the middle being the highest. Tlxe craters form hol- 
lows in the sides of these, and, together with many 
crevices, are in general filled with snow, though the out- 
line of Uie hill and the internal warmth prevent it from 
accumulating in such quantities as on other mountains. 
When Mackenzie ascended it in 1810, steam was con- 
stantly arising from the central peak, and the heat was so 
intense, that on removing some of the exterior stones, 
those below were found too hot to be handled, and a 
thermometer placed among them rose to 144^. Its sides 
are scarred by numerous ravines, serving as beds for the 
winter cataracts, and occasioned either by streams of lava 
or by those torrents of water or melted snow which some- 
times, thougli more rarely here than on some other vol- 
canoes, accompany an eruption. The most remarkable 
of these chasms is one on the western side, which extends 
from the top to the bottom of the mountain, and resem- 
bles a valley filled with heaps of melted substances, large 
masses of which still hang threatening on its declivities. 
This hollow was probably &rmed in the eruption of 
1800, when the old annals relate that Hekla was rent to 
the very centre ; its present appearance arising from its 
being partially filled by the debris from the sides, and by 
the sand and ashes with which the ejections generally 

The beautiful and fertile plain which formerly sur- 
rounded this fSuned volcano is now overflowed by its 
fiery flood, or buried under immense heaps of cinders, 
pumice, sand, and ashes. For nearly ten miles around, no 
grass or other plant grows, and the ruined walls of the 
farm-houses and enclosures still seen amidst the wind* 


logs of the torrents, tell the melancholy tale of days 
of prosperity which seem passed for ever. The most 
extensive field of lava lies to the south, spread out 
towards the TindfiaU, and is as it were sown with a vast 
number of small cones rising only a few hundred feet 
above its surfiace, yet easily recognised from the deep 
red colour of their craters. The most remarkable of 
these, the Band-oeldor, composed of small red half-melted 
stones^ has an oblong form, and a crater in the middle 
180 feet deep and 840 in circumference. These hillocks 
have all co-opeiated in producing this immeasurable sea 
of molten earth ; the eruptions having oftener proceeded 
from those small channels which pierce the plain like a 
sieve than from the central opening. This is not peculiar 
to the locality now described, as the loose and crumbling 
sides of volcanic mountains are frequently unable to resist 
the pressure of a column of lava four or five thousand 
feet in height. 

Hekla seems to have been in a state of repose for some 
time previous to the arrival of the Norwegians, and to 
have remained in the same condition more than a century 
afterwards. Many of the old annalists place the first out- 
break in the years 1104, 1105, or 1106, but others make 
it a hundred years earlier. Most authors reckon twenty- 
three eruptions in all ; others, with whom Stephenson 
agrees, only eighteen. The interval between them 
varies from six to seventy-six years, the average period 
being about thirty-five. But it is not to be supposed 
that lava in a fluid state has on all these occasions flowed 
from the mountain ; its discharges being often confined 
to sand and pumice, which are, however, almost equally 
destructive to the adjacent country.* 

* The dates of the eruptions are as follow :-.10O4, 1029, 1105, 
1113. I157» 1206, 1222, 1294, 1300 (the last two are said to have 
heen extremely violent, and to have continued daring a whole year), 
1340, 1374, 1390, 1436, 1510, 1554, 1583, 1H19, 1625, 1636, 1693, 
1728. 1754, 1766-1768. Von Troil's Letters (original edition, 
Upsua, 1 777), quoted hy Henderson, vol. i. p. 343. The difference 
in other authors prohably arises from only countins those from the 
central crater. Vide Gliemaon, p. 102, for other lists. 


: The last eruption of this mountain, in 1766, was re- 
markable for its violence. Four years before it took 
place, when Ola&en and Povelsen were there, some of the 
people were flattering themselves with the belief, that as 
there had been no outbreak from the principal crater for 
upwards of seventy years, its energies were completely 
exhausted. Others, on the contrary, thought that there 
was on this account only more reason to expect that it 
would soon again commence. The preceding winter was 
remarkably mild, so that the lakes and rivers in the 
vicinity seldom froze, and were much diminished, pro- 
bably from the internal heat. On the 4th April 1766 
there were some slight shocks of an earthquake, and early 
neidt, morning a black pillar of sand, mingled with Are 
and redhot stones, burst with a loud thundering noise 
firom its summit. Masses of pumice, six feet in circum- 
ference, were thrown to the distance of ten or fifteen 
miles, together with heavy magnetic stones^ one of which, 
eight pounds weight, fell fourteen miles off, and sunk 
into the ground though still hardened by the frost. 
The sand was carried towards the north-west, covering 
the land 150 miles round four inches deep, impeding 
the fishing-boats along the coast, and darkening the air, 
80 that at Thingore, 140 miles distant, it was impossible 
to know whether a sheet of paper was white or black. 
At Holum, 155 miles to the north, some persons thought 
they saw the stars shining through the sand-cloud. 
About mid-day, the wind veering round to the south- 
east, conveyed the dust into the central desert, and pre- 
vented it from totally destroying the pastures. On 
the 9th April the lava first appeared, spreading about 
five miles towards the south-west, and on the 23d May a 
column x)f water was seen shooting up in the midst of 
the fland. The last violent eruption was on the 5th 
July, the mountain in the interval often ceasing to eject 
any matter ; and the large stones thrown into the air 
were compared to a swarm of bees clustering round'the 
mountain-top. The noise was heard like loud thunder 
forty miles distant, and the accompanying earthquakes 


were more severe at Krignvik, eighty miles westward, 
than at half the distance on the opposite side. The 
eruptions are said to be in general more violent daring a 
north or w«st wind than when it blows from the south 
or eajst, and on this occasion more matter was thrown out 
in mild than in stormy weather. Where the ashes were 
hot too thick, it was observed that they increased the 
fertility of the grass fields, and some of them were car- 
ried even to the Orkney Islands, the inhabitants of which 
were at first terrified by what they considered showers 
of black snow.* 

This remarkable mountain has been long associated 
with the superstitions of the natives, to which its awful 
phenomena give a great degree of countenance. The 
lower orders still regard it with terror, and few of them 
have ever ventured to ascend its summit, or even to ac- 
company strangers as guides. Pits full of buniing sul- 
phur and mud, boiling springs, and openings whence 
smoke and flanores continually issue, are the more natural 
dangers by which they endeavour to induce the tra- 
veller to forego his purpose ; and when these prove vain, 
they relate to him stories of the mountain-birds shaped 
like ravens, but with iron bills, which evil-entreat all 
intruders on their domain. Its crater is the entrance 
to Hela'sdark abode, and in the gloomy regions beneath 
tile Icelanders have fixed ** the place where the souls of 
wicked persons are tormented with fire ; for they will 
tell you that they see sometimes whole troops of infernal 
^irits carrying the damn'd souls into the abyss of this 
mount, and returning back again to fetch more. Blef- 
kenius says, this is generally observed after some bloody 
battle has been fought in some place or other."t Though 
tile intercourse with strangers may have somewhat modi- 

* OUifiBen*s Reise, th. ii. p. 13S-140. Finnsen's Efterretning om 
Tildragelseme Ted Bierget Helda (Copenhagen, 1767). Barry*i 
Orkney UUndc, p. 13. 

t La Peyrere's Accouirt of Iceland, Cborchiirg Voyages, vol. ii. 
p. 865. Compare Am. Jon. Brov. Com. p. L sects. 7, 8. Hakluyt, 
vol L. pp. 622-526, 556.662. 


fied these saperstitions in this vicinity, they are still found 
in all their force in the remoter parts of the island.* 

If Hekla and the surrounding scenery form the won- 
der of the southern extremity of the great central val> 
ley, Krabla, the Myvatn, and the neighbouring moun- 
tains, are equally that of the northern. Though from 
their situation in a remote and thinly peopled part of 
the countiy they are less known and seldom visited by 
travellers, yet they embrace some of the most remarkable 
volcanic appearances in the island. The analogies be- 
tween the two extremities of the central plateau are 
very striking,— both being chief seats of igneous activity, 
and both distinguished by lofty volcanoes, boiling springs, 
and large lakes. The Myvatn forms the centre of subter- 
ranean agency in this district, and a semicircular group of 
mountains, which, like the fiagments of a gigantic crater, 
surround its shores, have almost all been lately in a state 
of eruption. The northern bank of the lake is covered 
with rough black lava, running into the water in nume- 
rous &ntastic promontories, and divided by wide cracks, 
over one of which, sixty feet deep, there is a natural 
arch, now used as a road. On the west rise barren hills 
separated by sandy wastes and an extensive moor, inter- 
sected by numerous red cones, giving place in the south 
to dark mountains, and relieved in the east by the Namar 
or sulphur mines, where clouds of smoke recall to the 
mind the cause of the surrounding desolation. 

The highest of these connected summits is Rafh- 
tinnufiall, or the Obsidian Mountain, so named from the 
occurrence of this beautiful mineral in immense quan- 
tities, forming three beds near the summit. Next to 
it is Krabla, which, like Hekla, seems to consist of 
matter thrown from the crater, principally pumice, sand, 
and soft earth, diversified by beds of yellow sulphur 
and a few misshapen rocks. From the looseness of its 

* Olafaen's Reise, th. it. p. 133-140. Mackenzie's Travels, pp. 
236, 245-254. Henderson, vol. i. p. 340-344. Krug von Nidda^ 
Karsten's Archlv., vol. vii. pp. 462-465, 471. 


composition, this eminence has lately suffered much di- 
minution in height.* In the surrounding plain, and even 
on the hill itself, are many fens interspersed with hoiling 
pits of sulphur and mud, two of which on the south-east- 
em side are named Viite, a contraction of Helviite, from 
their supposed connexion with the infernal regions. One 
of these seen hy Ola&en had the form of a vast kettle 
filled to within thirty feet of the hrim with viscid hluish 
water, only visihle when the wind carried to a side the 
dense vapour that constantly ascended from its surface, 
and threw an acid mud on the hanks. This seems to 
be an old crater, as well as that visited by Henderson, 
which lies about 700 feet below the summit. The 
latter is a deep pit or basin, about three hundred feet 
in circumference, filled with a mixture of water, sul- 
phur, and bluish-black bolus, continually boiling, and 
every five minutes casting up a jet from the centre. 
This rose at first to about twelve feet, increasing by 
leaps to thirty, when it rapidly declined, and was 
preceded by a smaller spout from another part of the pool. 
The sides, composed of red earth and sulphur, are so ex- 
tremely soft, that it is dangerous to approach the margin. 
" The horrors," says the last-named traveller, " of this 
wonderful pool, are absolutely indescribable. To be 
conceived, they must be seen ; and, for my part, I am 
convinced that the awful impression they left upon my 
mind, no length of time will ever be able to erase." 
About a mile north-west j&om Krabla, to which it is 
connected by a narrow ridge, lies Leirhnukr, lower than * 
either of the former, and said to be inaccessible from the 
fens and sulphureous pits which surround its base. Be- 
fore the eruption of 1724-30, it was entirely covered with 
grass, but now appears consumed and corroded by the 
fire, and is considered one of the most dangerous vol- 
canoes in this part of the island. 

* Gliemaxin says that it is composed of sandstone and slate-clay 
(scbiefertbon), covered by sand, pumice, and ashes ; but the state- 
ments of Olafsen and Henderson agree with the above description. 


Tliis emption, in which the two mountains last named 
performed- the principal part, is regarded as one of the 
most violent and prolonged that ever happened inlceland, 
and was still fresh in the memory of many persons when 
Olafisen and Po velsen visited that district. Though every 
thing around bore marks of the agency of internal fire, 
yet neither of them was known as a volcano, and the 
stunted birches which had taken root in the crevices, and 
the white moss that clothed the surface of the lava, seem- 
ed to give assurance that its igneous resources were all ex- 
hausted. But as in the case of Vesuvius of old, which it 
resembles in so many of its phenomena, this lengthened 
period of repose was only the prelude to more terrible 
convulsions, and for five years &e mountains raged as if 
with the concentrated energy of centuries. The steinaa, 
or stone flood, as the natives expressively named the 
lava that issued from Krabla, divided itself amongst the 
valleys into many arms, the laigest of which, fourteen 
miles long and above two broad, entering the lake, 
destroyed the fish, and caused it to boil many days. 
Another approached Keykiahlid, burning up the farm- 
houses in its progress, but spared the church, turning 
aside when within two feet of the wall of the burying- 
ground.* During the day, the fiery stream burnt wiQi 
a blue sulphureous flame, half concealed by the smoke, 
but yet so strong, that a tobacco-pipe could be kindled 
at it, to which it imparted an unpleasant taste. At 
night it assumed a bright glow, colouring the whole 
heavens red, whilst the clear sparks from it, and the fiery 
matter thrown frt)m the top of the mountains, produced a 
continual lightning visible in the most distant provinces. 
Sometimes the current ceased, and the outer rind con- 
gealed, but a fresh supply of fluid soon burst it up, 
canying the fragments along like shoals of ice on a 
river. These detached portions, twisted into all direc- 

* This very curious fact of the lava currents being turned 
aside by some seemingly very slight obstacle, has frequently been 
observed on other occasions. 


iionsy at times produced figures as beautiful as if carv- 
ed by some skilful artist. Often, on highly inclined 
places, the crust had sufficient consistency to remain 
standing, when the more fluid portion in the interior 
passed on ; and thus formed long vaults curiously glazed 
within, and adorned with splendid stalactites hanging 
like icicles from the roof.^ 

Many other volcanoes are met with in this quarter of 
the island, but we shall only name two, Herdubreid and 
Trolladynger, situated considerably to the south, in the 
midst of the desert country. The first is a very high 
mountain, almost four-cornered, and surrounded near 
the top as by a wall ; the second, about thirty miles 
&om the other, is lower, and separated into three peaks. 
Both have been frequently in combustion, and have to- 
gether produced the Odaada-hraun, or Horrid-lava, one 
of the most extensive tracts of this substance in Iceland ; 
but their remote situation has prevented them from pro- 
ducing much injury.t 

The preceding account of the Icelandic mountains 
shows that most of them are of avolcanic nature, and J&om 
the native history we learn the frequency with which 
they have manifested this character. Most of them seem 
now to be in the state of intermittent activity, in which 
more or less violent paroxysms occur at intervals of 
longer or shorter duration, and, but for the uncertainty of 
these periods, we might consider some as in a state of com- 
plete repose. These alternations of movement and rest 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. p. 54-61. Henderson, vol. i. pp. 149-160, 
171-179. Gliemann, pp. 95, 96. Krug von Nidda, Karsten's 
Arcbiv. vol. vii. p. 467. 

t Ola&en's Reise, th. ii. p. 73. Gliemann, p. 94. Few lan- 
guages seem richer in names for the different forms of mountains 
than the Icelandic ;jokul is appropriated to mountains covered inth 
ice ; isolated rocks or hills are named fell or Jiall ; when the ctffii 
are as it were heaped one on another, Maud; steep cones, h^ipit 
or hnup ; small Imobs or knolls, hial ; and high mountain-plaku» 
mow. Capes are named nes or naes ; if they end in a high narrow 
promontonr, hafd ; and if with a single nigh mountain, horn. 
These explanations will show the import of the names imposed on 
many places by the first settlers. 


seem common both to the separate members and to the 
whole system, there being many years in which the island 
remains undisturbed, whilst at other epochs it appears as 
if entirely devoted to the fury of contending elements. 
The most terrible of the volcanoes known in ancient times 
wereHekla,Oraefa J6kul,and the Katlegia, to which have 
recently been added Krabla, Leirhnukr, and Skaptaa- 
fells, which commenced only in the 18th century. The 
earliest record of such an occurrence is that of the Elld- 
borg, in the western part of the island, said to have hap- 
pened in the 9th or l^h century.- This was followed by 
the eruption from the mountains in Guldbringe Syssel in 
the year 1000, at the time when the Althing was deliber- 
ating as to the reception of the Christian religion. In the 
11th century, Hekla appeared in a state of violent com- 
motion, extending in the middle of the 12th to many 
others, which devastated the land from north to south, and 
were accompanied by destructive earthquakes. In the 
beginning and at a later period of the 13th century, 
the south-western quarter was particularly excited, 
whilst in the middle of the succeeding one, the island 
was desolated by the most terrible convulsions, con- 
cluding in 1391 with a violent earthquake, felt over the 
whole country. From this date till the beginning of the 
16th, the volcanoes were comparatively quiet, but at that 
period, and in the end of the century, they raged both 
in the south and north. The l7th was again an interval of 
repose, in which only the southern ones were active ; 
but the 18th age proved that their energies had undergone 
no diminution by eruptions even more violent than those 
of the 14th. Between 1720 and 1730, the same mountains 
were in incessant action, accompanied by earthquakes, 
whilst in the north, Krabla and Leirhnukr began their 
devastations ; in the years 1753 and 1755 the Skeiders 
and Ejitlegia Jokuls poured out every variety of volcanic 
matter; in 1766, Hekla again commenced, and the 
destructive outbreak of the Skaptar in 1783 closed these 
frightful scenes. From that time till 1821, with the 
exception of some slight agitations, and probably a few 


inconsiderable eruptions in the desert parts of the country^ 
no displays of volcanic action occurred. But on the night 
between the 20th and 21st December of the year just 
named, the lofty Eyafialla Jokul, of which the movement 
of 1612 was the only one formerly known, burst its icy 
covering, and began to cast out ashes, stones, and dust, 
accompanied with a strong flame. It continued till Janu- 
ary throwing out great quantities of pumice ashes, which 
covered all the surrounding fields; and in February 
1822 a lofty pillar of smoke still rose from the crater. 
In June of the following year it again began to bum, and 
on the 26th of the same month destroyed a part of the 
adjacent land ; but, after pouring out some streams of 
water in the beginning of July, it was once more quiet. 
In this month also the Eatlegia, after 68 years' repose, 
threw out sand and ashes, covering nearly 100 square 
miles of ground. In July 1825 both sides of the island 
were visited by earthquakes, accompanied by destructive 
hurricanes and floods ; whilst on the 13th February 1827 
there was an eruption of the Skeiderse Jokul. 

Such displays of volcanic fury have not been confined 
to the dry land, but have invaded even the channels of 
the sea. Many of the eruptions in the latter have with- 
out doubt been concealed by the waters, and passed away 
without any memorial, as those only which were most 
distinguished for violence could appear on the surface. 
The Westmanna Islands, in the line forming the prolonga- 
tion of the southern chain of jokuls, bear evident marks 
of igneous action, consisting almost entirely of lava (a 
stream of which seems to have flowed from Helgafi^ll in 
Heymaey), and are said to have ejected volcanic matter 
since the land was inhabited. But Cape Reikianes and the 
islands near it, which form as it were a continuation of the 
northern mountain-chain, present more decided tokens 
of internal combustion, and the sea in their vicinity has, as 
the natives describe it, been several times on fire. The 
Sturlunga Saga relates that this occurred in the ISth 
century more than five times, producing great changes 
in the islands. In 1840 and 1422 the same phenomenon 


appeared, and in 1583 flame was seen rising from the 
deep by a ship from Bremen. It was again in action in 
1783, when a new island rose from the ocean, bnt 
vanished next year during a violent earthquake. The 
quantity of pumice thrown out was so great as to cover 
the waves for 100 to 150 miles round, and even, it is 
said, to impede the progress of the ships. It also threw 
out ashes about 1831 in such abundance, that some of 
them fell in Reikiavik, causing great alann to the inha- 

As a particular example of the ravages produced by 
these terrible convulsions of nature may give the reader 
a clearer and more vivid idea of their action than any 
general description, we shall select the eruption of the 
Skaptar Jokul in 1783 ; it having been not only very 
violent, but the one of which we possess the fullest and 
most authentic accounts. The preceding winter and the 
spring of that year had been imusually mild, and no- 
thing seemed to foretell the approaching danger till 
towards the end of May, when a light bluish fog was 
seen floating along the ground, succeeded in the begin- 
ning of June by earthquakes, which daily increased in 
violence till the 8th of that month. At nine on the 
morning of that day numerous pillars of smoke were 
noticed rising in the hill country towards the north, 
which, gradually gathering into a dark bank, obscured 
the atmosphere, and proceeding in a southerly direction 
against the wind, involved the whole district of Sida in 
darkness, showering down sand and ashes to the thick- 
ness of an inch. This cloud continued to increase till the 
10th, when fire-spouts were observed in the mountains, 

* Landnama, p. 68. Gliemann, p. 105-195. Olafsen's Reise, 
th. ii. pp. 171, 223, 224. Barrow's Visit, p. 91. Von Hoff, 
Terzeichniss von Erdbeben, &c. Poggendorff^s Annalen, 1824, et 
seq. The dates of four eruptions in the 13th century are given in 
the Icelandic Annals in Langebek's Collections, viz. : — 1211, ac- 
companied by an earthquake; 1226, darkness at mid-day; 1238; 
1240, in which year there was also an earthquake, the sun appeared 
red, and a pestilence followed. Vide Langebek's Script. Rer. Dan. 
torn. iu.pp. 77, 86, 93, 94. 


accompanied by earthquakes. Next day the large river 
Skaptaa^ which in the spring had dischaiqg^ed a vast quan- 
tity of fetid water mixed with gravel or dust, and had 
lately been much swollen, totally disappeared. This in- 
cident was fiilly accounted for on the 12th, when a huge 
current of lava burst &om one side of the volcano and 
rushed with a loud crashing noise down the channel 
of the river, which it not only filled, but even over- 
flowed, though in many places &om four to six hundred 
feet deep and two hundred broad. The fiery stream, after 
leaving the hiUs, threatened to deluge the low country of 
Medalland, when a lake that lay in its way intercepted it 
during several days. But at length the incessant torrents 
filled the basin and proceeded in two streams, — one to the 
east, where its progress was for a short time interrupted 
by Uie SkaJarfiall, up which, however, the accumulating 
flood soon forced its way, rolling the mossy covering of 
the mountain before it like a large piece of cloth. The 
other current directed its progress towards the south 
through the district of Medalland, passing over some old 
tracts of lava, which again began to bum, whilst the air 
in its cavities escaped with a strange whistling noise, or, 
suddenly expanding, threw up immense masses into the 
air to the height of more than 120 feet. The waters of 
the rivers, swollen by the melting of the jokuls in the 
interior, and intercepted in their course by the glowing 
lava, were thrown into a state of violent ebullition, and 
destroyed many spots spared by the fire. In this district 
the liquid matter continued to flow till the 20th of July, 
following principally the course of the Skaptaa, where it 
poured over the lofty cataract of Stapafoss, filling up the 
enormous cavity the waters had been hollowing out for 
ages. During the whole of this eruption the atmo- 
sphere was filled with mephitic vapours or darkened with 
clouds of ashes, by which the sun was either concealed 
from the miserable inhabitants, or appeared like a blood- 
red globe, adding to their terror and consternation. 

The molten elements had so long confined their fury 
to the Skaptaa that the inhabitant of the eastern dis- 


trict on the Hverfisfliot, though much incommoded by 
the showers of ashes, hoped to escape its more imme- 
diate visitations. But on the 28th of June a cloud of 
sand and smoke caused so thick a darkness that in the 
houses at noon a sheet of white paper held opposite the 
window could not be distinguished from the black walls, 
whilst redhot stones and dust burned up the pastures, 
poisoned the waters, and threatened to set fire to the 
dwellings. On the 3d of August a thick vapour rising 
fi:x)m the Hverfisfliot, the entire disappearance of its 
waters, and a foaming fire -stream which on the 9th rush- 
ed with indescribable fury down its bed, overflowing 
the country in one night to the extent of more than four 
miles, converted the fearful anticipations of the natives 
into dreadful realities. The eruptions of sand, ashes, 
pumice, and lava, continued till the end of August, when 
the volcano appeared completely exhausted ; but flames 
were still seen in February 1784, and thick clouds of 
smoke even in July of that year. The whole catastrophe 
closed in August with an earthquake of such extreme 
violence that men were thrown to the ground. 

The immediate source whence this enormous mass of 
matter issued is entirely unknown, being situated in that 
great central desert of sand and snow which none of the 
natives have ever penetrated ; and no traditions of any 
former occurrence of this kind have been preserved. 
Some persons who went up into the mountains during 
the continuance of the eruption were, in consequence of 
the thick smoke, compelled to return, and some subse- 
quent attempts met with no better success. It is not 
even known whether the current that flowed down the 
Skaptaa and that in the Hverfisfliot proceeded from the " 
same crater. It is, however, probable their sources were 
different though closely connected. 

The extent of the lava can only be accurately known 
hx the inhabited districts. The stream that flowed down 
the Skaptaa is calculated at about fifty miles in length 
by twelve or fifteen at its greatest breadth, — that in the 
Hverfisfliot at forty miles in length by seven in breadth. 


In the narrow channel of the Skaptaa it rose to 500 or 
600 feet, but in the plams its extreme height does not 
exceed 100, and in many places is only eight or ten feet. 
From its inmiense thickness, it was a long time in cool- 
ing, being so hot in July 1784, twelve months after the 
eruption, that Mr Stephensen could not cross it, and even 
then sending up a thick smoke or steam. In the year 
I7d4 it still retained an elevated temperature, emitting 
vapours from various places, and many of its crevices being 
filled with warm water. This long retention of heat will 
appear more extraordinary when we consider the nume- 
rous globular cavities and fissures it contained permitting 
a &ee circulation of the water and atmosphere.* 

The destructive effects of this volcano were not con- 
fined to its immediate vicinity, vast quantities of sand 
and ashes being scattered over the remoter parts of the 
country, and some were conveyed to the Faroe Islands, 
a distance of nearly 300 miles.t The noxious vapours 
that for many months infected the air were equally 
pernicious to man and beast, and covered the whole 
island with a dense fog which obscured the sun, and was 
perceptible even in England and Holland. The steam 

* The mass of matter ejected on this occasion must have been 
enormoos, and gives no countenance to the opinion that the igneous 
agents operating on the earth are diminishing in intensity. Assum- 
ing the average breadth of the first current as six miles, and of the 
second as three, both probably below the truth, the one would 
cover 300 square miles, the other 120, or 420 in all. With an ave. 
rage depth of fifteen yards, the combined mass would contain 
420 X 3097600 x 16 = 19,614,880,000 cubic vards, or nearly twenty 
thousand millions. But this comprises only that portion which 
flowed into the inhabited districts, whilst it is likely that an equal 
or greater quantity remained heaped up around the crater, or flowed 
off into the unknown regions of the interior. To this must also 
be added the pumice, sand, and ashes scattered not only over the 
whole island, but to a distance of 300 miles ronnd, in such abun. 
dance as to destroy the fisheries in the neighbouring sea. With 
these additions it would amount we may believe to fifty or sixty 
thousand millions of cubic vards, exceeding the solid contents of 
Hekla, which, if six miles in diameter at the base and 1700 yards 
high, would contain nearly fifty thousand millions (49,637,270,000) 
of cubic yards. This is probably larger than any individual mass 
of the older igneous rocks known to exist. 
•f This also happened during the eruption of HeUa in 1693. 


rising from the crater, or exhaled from the boiling waters, 
was condensed in the cooler regions of the atmosphere, 
and descended in floods, that deluged the fields and 
consolidated the ashes into a thick black crust. A faJl 
of snow in the middle of June, and frequent showers of 
hailstones of unusual magnitude, accompanied with tre- 
mendous thunder-storms tearing up huge fragments of 
rock and rolling them down into the plains, completed 
the scene of desolation. The grass and other plants 
withered, and became so brittle that the weight of a 
man's foot reduced them to powder ; and even where 
the pastures seemed to have recovered, the cattle refused 
to touch them, dying of actual starvation in the midst of 
the most luxuriant herbage. Small unknown insects 
covered many of the fields, whilst other portions of the 
soil formerly the most fertile were changed by the ashes 
into marshy wastes overgrown with moss and equiseta. 
A disease resembling scurvy in its most malignant type 
attacked both men and cattle, occasioned in the former 
no doubt by the want of food, and the miserable, offcen 
disgusting, nature of that which alone they could obtain. 
Many lived on the bodies of those animals which had 
perilled from hunger or disease, whilst others had 
recourse to boiled skins, or substances still more nauseous 
and unwholesome. The numerous earthquakes, with 
the ashes and other ^matter thrown into the sea, caused 
the fish to desert many parts of the coast, whilst the 
fishermen seldom daring to leave the land, enveloped 
in thick clouds during most of the sunmier, were thus 
deprived of their usual stock of winter provisions. 
We cannot better conclude this frightfril catalogue of 
evils than by the following summary of the numbers of 
men and cattle i^ore or less imjnediately destroyed by it 
in two years. The most moderate calculation makes 
these amount to 1300 human beings, 19,488 horses, 6801 
homed cattle, and 129,937 sheep.* 

* Stephensen says 9336 men, 28,000 horses, 11,461 cattle, and 
190,488 sheep, but his numbers are thought exasperated. The 
description in the text is chiefly abridged from this gentleman's 


The fiords, which, bursting through the rocky barrier 
that guards the coast, run far up into the interior, con- 
stitute a most characteristic feature of Icelandic scenery. 
They hare all a great similarity of form, so that the 
description of the general features of one may serve 
equally for that of all the others. Having probably been 
at first rents or chasms produced by the original up- 
heaving of the island, their length is often very dispro- 
portioned to their breadth ; some of them being scarcely 
two miles wide, yet extending twenty-five or even 
thirty into the country, and continu^ still fitrther 
by narrow vales, down which the mountain-rivers 
find their way to the sea. Lofty ridges, running out 
into the ocean and ending in precipitous headlands^ 
separate them from each other. In the neighbourhood 
of the Rode and Bern Fiords these assume their most 
magnificent appearance, attaining an elevation of nearly 
4000 feet, though their average height on other parts of 
the coast is only about the half of that now specified. 
So sudden is the rise of these mountains that it is no 
uncommon thing to find precipices 1000 feet high, from 
the top of which a stone may be cast into the sea. The 
fiords are thus shut in on both sides by perpendicular 
walls of rock towering up to a tremendous height, whose 
summits are clothed with eternal snows or veiled in 
dark clouds. All around seems dead, — ^no trace of life 
is visible. Man and all that he produces vanish amidst 
the mightier works of Nature. Woods and the higher 
classes of ihe vegetable) creation are entirely want- 
ing, and the naked rocks are too steep for even the 
hardy birch or stunted willow to fix their roots. No 
sound is heard save the billows dashing on the craggy 

** Account of the Eruption'' published at Copenhagen in 1785, 

earthquakes in Sicily and Calabria were almost synchroi 
in commencement and duration with this eruption. The first shock 
was felt on the 5tb February 1783, and they continued till the fol- 
lowing May. 


shore, no motion seen but the cataract nishlng down the 
ragged cliffs. 

Such is the general appearance of these fiords^ and 
the repulsive aspect they present ; yet there does the 
Icelander choose his dwellkig, unappalled by the rocks 
which threaten every moment to crush him by their 
fall. The island is nowhere thickly peopled, but these 
firths and their connected valleys are more so than any 
other portion. Here grassy meadows are found in the 
immediate vicinity of the sea, and here, therefore, the 
natives can employ in conjunction both those sources of 
gain which alone the severe climate leaves open to them. 
On their shores are the finest pastures for the cattle, 
whilst their waters are a favourite retreat of the cod, 
the most esteemed of the fish caught on the coast. In 
them also the sea is calm and less exposed to storms, so 
that the fishermen carry on their employment with 
greater safety and convenience. Another advantage of 
these situations is, that the fiords, entering deeply into 
the land, are like canals, connecting the interior with 
the coast, and greatly facilitate both internal and ex- 
ternal communication. Merchant ships sail up these 
inlets, and find a safe natural harbour, where they supply 
the wants of the natives and receive their produce in re- 
turn. The most fertile portions of the island are thus 
brought thirty or forty miles nearer the ocean, and one 
boat will with ease transport more goods in the same time 
than thirty horses could have done on their miserable 
roads. We need not therefore be surprised to find that 
the inhabited country, where the fiords exist, stretches 
fer up into the interior, and that where they are wanting, 
it is confined to a narrow strip along the coast.* 

This peculiar formation of Iceland renders travelling 
remarkably difficult and even dangerous, the road con- 
tinually ascending or descending ^e lofty ridges sepa- 
rating the fiords. Many of these are never free from 
snow even in summer, and the traveller who, in climb- 

* Krug von Nidda, Karsten's Archiv. vol. vii. pp. 426-430, 452. 


ing the steep side of the hill, was fainting under the 
oppressive heat, on gaining the icy summit is pierced 
through hy cold winds. The tracks which cross these 
heights are often nothing more than hollows cut by 
some mountain-torrent in the precipitous rock ; paths 
fitter for the goat or the chamois than for men or loaded 
horses. But the sagacity with which these animals find 
their way through such fearful ravines is truly surprising, 
leaping from ledge to ledge, or sliding down amidst the 
crumbling fragments. Accidents, however, frequently 
occur, when the horse and his rider, hurled over the 
precipice, are dashed to pieces long ere they reach the 

The principal inlets on the west coast are the Faxa 
Fiord, fifty-six miles broad and thirty-seven long, ex- 
tending between the promontories of Reykianes and 
Sneefield, and the Breida Fiord to the north of the latter, 
about forty miles wide and sixty long. Both of them 
separate into many smaller ones in the interior. In the 
north-western peninsula are numerous fiords of inferior 
magnitude, as itie Patrix, the Amar twenty-eight miles 
long, and the great Isafiardardiup, running forty-six miles 
into the land towards the south-east. On the northern 
coast these bays mostly follow a southerly direction, in- 
clining a little to the east, or nearly at a right angle to 
the jokul chain. Of these we shall only notice the 
Ska^ustrandar Floi, ending in the Hruta, Mid, and Huna 
fiords, the Eya Fiord, forty-two miles long and ten or 
twelve broad, and the Axar and Thistil fiords, between 
which is the most northern point of Iceland. There are 
many on the east coast, but none equal in size to those we 
have named on the north ; the more remarkable are the 
Vapna, fourteen miles long, the Reidar, eighteen miles 
long, and the Bern. We may here mention that the 
depth of water in the interior of the northern fiords, 
has of late greatly decreased, so that many harbours 
formerly frequented are now altogether inaccessible. 
This is no doubt partly owing to the debris carried down 
frvm the land, but the efiect must also be ascribed to other 


causes, which we shall notice in connexion with some 
similar phenomena in a suhsequent part of this work. 

As already observed, these fiords are in general con- 
nected with rivers, which form as it were their continua- 
tion into the interior ; but where the central parts, as in 
Iceland, are almost destitute of inhabitants, these natural 
roadways are of less importance than in more favoured 
lands. Their course is seldom of any considerable length, 
none of them exceeding 100 miles, but they are broader 
and deeper than might be expected in such circumstances. 
Those proceeding from the ice-mountains are often flood- 
ed even in the summer, and throw serious obstacles in 
the way of travellers, as there are no bridges and but few 
ferry-boats ; in which case they must be forded on horse^ 
back, in doing which the rider's life necessarily depends 
on the strength of his steed and its practice in swimming. 
Many of the larger streams cannot be crossed even in this 
manner, and the road has therefore to follow their banks 
until they divide or enter a glacier, on which slippery 
and dangerous path they may be passed over. 

The rivers are of two kinds, which may easily be dis- 
tinguished from the colour of their waters; those which 
issue from the glaciers, the jokulsaa^ of the natives, 
being rendered white by the particles of clay or pumice 
which they bear down on their current. Many of these, 
especially on the south of the island, are of vast mag- 
nitude and rapidity, and present a strange spectacle where 
they burst from benea& their snowy canopy, carry- 
ing along with them immense masses of ice. Their 
course is often extremely short, that of some of the 
widest and most dangerous not exceeding six or eight 
miles. The stream from the Breidamark Jokul, which 
Henderson found great difficulty in fording, though 
spread out into several branches, is only one mile from 
its source to where it falls into the 8ea.t 

The remaining rivers have little to distinguish them 

* All rivers are named Aa or Au^ or Elv, 
t Henderson, vol. i. p. 238. 


from those of other lands. From the rapidity of their 
course none of them are navigable, and the same cause 
produces many sublime waterfals, though without the 
accompaniment of the woods which add so much to the 
charms of those in more fertile climates. Some small 
streams, such asthe Fossa or Cataract River, form almost 
a continued succession of cascades, the water only escap- 
ing from one dark pool to plunge headlong into another. 
In the deep gullies cut in the course of ages, the snow 
protected from the sun often forms fantastic arches, be- 
neath which the current is seen to descend. 

The only river of any size on the west coast is the 
Hvitau or White River, often called the Hvitau i Bor- 
garfirdi, to distinguish it from others of the same name. 
It is formed by the union of three springs, of which the 
northern or Norllngafliot runs a considerable distance 
under ground. Though only forty-six miles long, this 
jokul river is from 200 to 800 feet broad, and so deep 
and rapid in the lower part of its course as to be 
quite unfordable. 

The northern side of the island has very numerous 
livers, of which the most considerable are the follow- 
ing : — ^The Blandau, from a branch of the Lange Jokul, 
has bluish water and a course of about forty miles, £Edl- 
ing into the sea in the Blondu Cos. Next follow the 
Herads Votn sixty-five miles long, and the Eyafiardarau 
about thirty ; after which we meet with the Liucau issuing 
from the Myvatn, of the same length, but with a breadth 
of 400 or 600 feet, whose white waters run in a bed cut 
out of the lava rocks, amidst which it forms many 
rapids. The Jokulsau i Axarfiordi, the largest river in 
this part of the country, rises on the western side of 
Sniofell, and flows with a muddy stream over a very 
tmeven bed, through which it foams and roars. It 
has a considerable breadth, and is so deep as to be 
crossed only in boats, and, after a course of eighty-five 
miles, pours its contents into the Axar Fiord. Though 
receiving few tributaries, it is still so large that seals 
are frequently found in it. 


The eastern side has few large rivers, which mostly 
run in a north or north-easterly direction, whilst the 
smaller ones flow nearly due east. The most remark- 
able is the Jokulsau a Bru, or Bridge-river, which, rising 
to the north of Sniofell, falls after a course of fifty-six 
miles into the Bay of Hieradsfloi. Its waters are of a 
dirty brown colour, and, receiving the tribute of thirty- 
eight other streams, it is of considerable width and size. 
It is crossed only at three places, at one by a ferry, which 
is dangerous from the strong currents and breakers in 
the water ; at another by a bridge, the only one in Ice- 
land, which has on this account given its name to the 
river. It was built in the year 1698, is five feet broad, 
but now much dilapidated from age. The third passage, 
named At Fara i Kkfa, is accomplished by means of a 
wooden box hung on two ropes stretched across the 
gulf, in which a man sits, and either draws or pushes 
himself over. The river has high rocky banks, and is 
from forty to sixty feet wide, yet it often overflows and 
produces great devastation, as in the year 1625, when it 
rose more than thirteen yards above its usual level. 

Another singular river in this quarter is the Lager- 
fliot, issuing firom Sniofell, which rises from the middle 
of the valley, down which it flows for fifty-six miles. 
Its waters are white, but pure, and it has often a depth 
of fifty fathoms, with a breadth of 360 to 600 feet. 
From Skridukloster to Rangaros, a distance of thirty 
miles, it is from 4000 to 6600 feet wide, interspersed wilii 
numerous small but fertile islands, and has altogether 
the appearance of a lake. 

The rivers on the southern coast are almost all jokul 
streams, with the short course and magnitude charac- 
teristic of their class. The Napsvotn from Skaptaa 
Jokul, twenty-three miles long, has for the last fourteen 
a breadth of two and a half. The Hverfisfliot, which 
formerly joined it, is since the eruption of 1783 almost 
dried up. The same fate happened to the Skaptaa, 
which for the last ten miles of its course' was nearly 
three broad, but whose diminished waters now find a 


channel for themselyes to the north of the lava-current. 
An opposite e£Fect was produced on the Jokulsau a Sol- 
heima Sandl, commonly named from its sulphureous 
odour the Stank-Elven, which before the catastrophe of 
900 was only a small brook. The Markarfliot, remark- 
able for a similar peculiarity, especially in the spring 
months^ is also a jokul-elv, which running down from 
the Tot£bl separates into many arms. Its western branch 
receiyes the two streams named Rangau from the neigh- 
bourliood of Hekla, which have often changed their chan- 
nel during the earthquakes to which that district is so 
much subjected, particularly in the year 1294. 

A little westward from this we pass the Thiorsau and 
Hvitau, each of them about seventy miles long. The 
fonner rises near the Hofs Jokul, is rich in salmon 
and trout, and in one place where it crosses a lava-bed 
fonns^ numerous falls and rapids. The latter, issuing 
from the Lange Jokul, is a noble river, flowing through 
the lake of the same name, which is surrounded by 
magnificent glaciers. It receives on the right by the 
Fliotsau the waters of the Geysers, and frequently over- 
flows its banks. As it is crossed by the great road from 
the north of Iceland, and is frequently impassable for 
weeks, travellers are often reduced to great straits when 
the food they had provided for their journey is con- 
sumed ; there being no place in the deserts where they 
can obtain a supply, nor even sufficient pasture for their 
horses.* The Ealdau to the south of Reikiavik is one 
of the most singular rivers in the island, and the last we 
shall mention. It issues in a considerable stream from 
a large basin near the Helgafell, and, after holding a 
westerly course of ten miles, suddenly vanishes in a bed 
of cavernous lava. It probably appears again in the 
Hafim Fiord, where a plentifrd body of water has been 
observed flowing from the land into the sea. 

Though rich in rivers, Iceland is by no means so in 

* Gliemann, p. 36. Mackenzie, p. 237. Henderson, vol. i. 
p. 66. 



lakes, its fractured soil seldom offering any hollows in 
which they can be formed. The Myvatn, named from 
the immense swarms of mosquitoes (jOulex pipiens) 
that frequent its shores, is one of the most remarkable 
in the whole country. It lies in a situation the lone- 
liness of which is only broken by the flocks of water- 
fowl that inhabit its banks and islands. Its greatest 
length is seven miles and the circumference about 
twenty, but it has been so filled up with the stony floods 
poured into it from the surrounding volcanoes that the 
depth seldom exceeds twenty-four feet. It contains 
thirty-four islands, mostly composed of lava covered with 
grass and the angelica, which are favourite breeding- 
places for the eider-ducks. From the deep fissures in 
its bottom issue numerous hot springs, sending up 
firequent dense columns of steam, which show the yet 
unceasing activity of the internal fires. These are the 
usual retreat of the forelles or trouts, which abound 
in the lake, and are considered fatter and more delicate 
than any other in the island. This sheet of water, 
though shallow, never freezes, probably from the vici- 
nity of the volcanic foci.* 

In the interior of the country, about forty-five miles 
north-east from Hekla, lies the large lake Fiske Vatn. 
It has no visible outlet, and was formerly much fre- 
quented for its fish by the inhabitants of the southern 
districts ; but the shore is now abandoned, and only a 
few fragments of their huts remain. Farther west is 
the Hvitaar Vatn, nine miles long by seven broad, to the 
south of which we find the Apa or Laugar Vatn, so named 
from its being always lukewarm. The Thingvalla 
Vatn, on whose banks the Althing was formerly held, is 
the largest lake in Iceland, being from twenty- five to 
thirty miles in circumference. It is very deep, in some 
places above 100 &thoms, and contains abundance of 
fish, which may be caught during the whole year. It 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. p. 64. Henderson, vol. i. p. 1^. 
GUemaiin, p. 39. 


was much altered during the earthquake of 1789, the 
north-eastern side sinking whilst the opposite or south- 
western shore rose, so that some parts formerly more 
than twenty feet deep were left almost dry, — a circum- 
stance by no means uncommon in the island.^ 

Next to its volcanoes, the hot springs, warm baths, 
and mineral waters, render Iceland one of the most 
interesting countries in the world.t Nowhere does the 
subterranean agency of Nature display its powers with 
a more lavish hand or in more varied forms ; and the 
hot springs alone are sufficient to arrest the attention 
of the philosophical student on this lonely island of the 
Northern Ocean. Certain of these cast up a thick 
colunm of water to the height of more than 100 feet with 
a noise that seems to shake the surrounding country. In 
some this happens constantly, in others at stated in- 
tervals, and in a third class irregularly, whilst almost 
all of them deposite a stony matter (siliceous sinter) 
which forms both the basin and pipe. This property 
finally leads to their destruction, the formation increasing 
more and more till the opening is closed and nothing 
of the spring remains but a small cone or hill formed of the 
flinty concretion. They are found in all parts of the 
land, some, like those on the Tor& Jokul, even sending 
up clouds of steam from amidst fields of perpetual ice. 
The very ocean that surrounds the coast is not free from 
them, and in the northern portion of the Breida Fiord, 
studded with innumerable islands, the water in many 
places is sensibly elevated in temperature by their action. 
The coast near Husevik is also remarkable for the hot 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. pp. 94, 140. Gliemann, p. 40. Many 
instances are mentioned by the Danish travellers of rivers disappear- 
ing or changing their course, and the same is said to have happened 
to the Myvatn. See Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. pp. 144, 145, &c. 
Gliemann, p. 25. 

t Hot springs are named in Icelandic hverar; vfarm baths or 
standing waters laugar; and the mineral wells or acid springs 
oellkil(Uir, i. e. ale- wells. The term reik, ** smoke," Scottic^ 
" reek**' which forms so common a portion of their name, refers to 
the steam or vapour which rises from them. 


springs that well forth firom its hottom and cause great 
injury to the nets or ropes used by the fishermen. In 
this place we can only notice a few of the more striking, 
the peculiarities of which have rendered them objects of 
general admiration even in foreign lands. 

Of these the Greyser and the surrounding wells are the 
best known, and tiiose, tpo, of which we have the most 
authentic accounts. Tliey are mentioned in some of the 
oldest writings of the country, but not as being particu- 
larly wonderful ; and hence the time of their first appear- 
ance is involved in obscurity. They seem indeed to 
8u£Fer great alterations from the earthquakes so com- 
mon in this part of the island, — a circumstance which 
also accounts for the differences found in the descriptions 
of travellers. About the middle of the I7th century 
the eruptions seem to have followed regularly every 
twenty-four hours, but a hundred years afterwards this 
periodical action was found to have ceased, and no cer- 
tain interval elapsed between them. Amidst the many 
disturbances produced by the earthquake of 1784, the 
Greyser regained its regularity, though the period was 
considerably shortened, there being four great ones in 
the twenty-four hours. Olafsen and Povelsen, who visit- 
ed it before this event, found only one spring in motion, 
which propelled the water to the height of 360 feel^ 
and it was said sometimes even to surpass this elevation. 
The first jet was preceded by a noise like a cannon-shot 
repeated six times, during which the ground quivered as 
if about to burst, afterwards each shot was succeeded 
by a gush of water, of which, as the whole continued 
ten minutes, and three seconds intervened between each, 
there must have been 200 in all. The diameter of the 
basin was fifty-seven feet, and its depth seventy-two ; 
but they could not measure that of the lower openings, 
as the fluid constantly rose when they let down the 
plummet. This terrified their guide, who thought it was 
caused by the spirit of the abyss, who was angry with 
them for prying into the mysteries of his dwelling. The 
water at that time possessed its petrifying qualities, and 


they saw not only vegetables, but even bones of sheep 
and other ammal substances, converted into stone. At 
some distance to the west were other hot springs, two of 
them with high banks, and from six to eight fathoms 
deep. One of these was said to have formerly been named 
Geyser, and to have thrown out its contents with a vast 
force, but to have been closed up by an earthquake at 
the time the present one opened.* 

The next traveller who gives an account of the Geysers 
is Von Troil, who visited them in 1772, and, from a 
measurement with a quadrant, estimated the height of the 
eolunm at ninety-two feet. He was followed in 1789 
by Sir John Stanley, who observed several eruptions, 
the highest ninety-six feet, and first mentions the new 
Geyser, or Strokr, which threw the water up a hun- 
dred and thirty-two feet. In 1804, Lieutenant Ohlsen 
found the great outbursts succeeding each other every 
BIX hours, and rising to 212 feet ; whilst the Strokr con- 
tinued to cast up a column 150 feet high for two hours 
and ten minutes. Hooker, in 1809, estimates the column 
at a hundred feet; whilst Mackenzie the following 
year makes it ninety, with an interval of thirty hours 
between each. The displays of the Strokr occurred 
every twelve or fourteen hours, and lasted half an 
hour or more, the water on one occasion rising seventy 
feet. When Henderson was there in 1815, the Geyser 
had again altered ; its great jets following at distances 
of six hours, and attaining a height of seventy or 
eighty, and once of 150 feet : those of the Strokr lasted 
one hour, with an interruption of twenty-four, and he 
found that he could produce one at any time by throw- 
ing stones into the hole. In 1834, Barrow had to wait 
thirty-five hours before he was gratified by the spectacle 

* Ola&en's Keise, th. ii. p. 146.149. The height of the jet, 
though not impossible, is probably exaggerated, none of the recent 
•eeoonts approaching it ; neither has the rising of the water in 
the pipe when any thing was let down been confirmed by later 


of one of the great jets, which he thinks must have 
ascended seventy or eighty feet.* 

The diversity of the statements now given will show 
that the Geysers vary much in their phenomena from 
time to time, and also account for the discrepancies in 
the relations of those who have visited them. The 
most recent descriptions are those of Mr Barrow and 
Krug von Nidda ; and as that of the latter author is 
particularly yaluahle from his scientific character, we 
shall chiefly adopt it as our guide. The Haukadal, in 
wliich these springs are found, is a vtdley ahout a 
mile in hreadth, hounded on the north side hy the 
Bald Jokul, and on the south hy a chain of hills sue or 
seven hundred feet high. The bottom of it is a marshy 
meadow, through which several small brooks wind their 
way to join the Hvitau. The icy shield of the jokul 
terminates the view on the north, whilst on the south the 
three snow-clad peaks of Hekla tower above the rocky 
wall of the plain. On the north side of it is a hill 
about 300 feet high, and half a mile long, separated by 
a narrow defile from tlie adjoining mountains, from 
which it appears as if torn by violence. A little south 
of this elevation, which slopes gently towards the level 
ground, lie the far-famed fountains. In the space of a 
few acres, more than ^Ry hot springs can be counted, all 
distinguished by some peculiarities, though their vicinity 
to the mighty Geysers has almost withdrawn attention 
from them. They are of two kinds ; the one filled with 
hot water, clear as crystal; the other giving vent to 
warm vapours, occasionally accompanied with very little 
fluid, which is always muddy. These last are confined 
to the summit or acclivity of the hill, whilst the others 
are only found in the plain at its foot. 

The Geyser, the most remarkable of these singular 
wells, is situated on a mound of siliceous tufia and 
sinter formed from its deposites, twenty-five or thirty 

• Von Troil's Letters, p. 14. Stanley, Trans. Roy. See. Ed. 
vol. iii. part ii. p. 127-153. Ohlsen, Gilbert's Annalen, vol. xUii. 
Hooker, vol. i. p. 157. Mackenzie, p. 225. Barrow's Iceland, p. 193. 


feet bigb, and 200 in diameter. On its summit is the 
basin, sixty feet across, and six or seven deep, at 
the bottom of which is the pipe, ten feet wide at the 
mouth, but gradually narrowing to seven or eight, 
with a perpendicular descent of seventy.* The in- 
terior of the basin and pipe is smooth, and polished 
by the constant action of the water, but the outside 
of the former is encrusted with beautiful flower-like 
groups of crystals, which have a most deceiving re- 
semblance to cauliflower. Small jets preceded by five 
or six explosions, and rising to nearly twenty feet, 
took place every two hours ; and in the intervals, the 
water filled only about half the basin, and was quite still, 
with a temperature of 164°, though immediately after 
the commotion it was near the boiling point.t When our 
author arrived at the Geyser, an intelligent peasant from 
the neighbouring cottage told him, that a great eruption 
had occurred shortly before, and that they only happened 
once in twenty-four or thirty hours, and he had accord- 
ingly to wait till next day. During the night the small 
spoutings waked him several times, but nothing extra- 
ordinary followed until past six the following evening. 
He was standing on the margin of the basin, when a 
hollow rumbling sound, succeeded by twelve or fifteen 
thundering explosions, producing a violent quivering 
motion in the ground, drove him from the spot, which 
seemed about to burst. Turning at a little distance, he 
beheld a thick pillar of vapour shooting like an arrow 
to the clouds, and surrounding a body of water rising 
with a fluctuating motion to the height of eighty or 
ninety feet. Some veins of the fluid rose above this, or 

* Mr Barrow makes the diameter of the basin fifty-six feet by 

fifty-two, and its depth four ; the pipe, at the mouth, eighteen and a 

. quarter by sixteen, diminishing to ten or twelve, whilst the depth. 

is from sixty-seven to seventy. Marmier, in 1836, says that the 

basin was fifty -two and a half feet wide, and seventy- five deep ; he 

' had to wait two days for one of the large eruptions. 

•f- It is stated nn the Comptes RendueSy that M. Lattin found the 
temperature of the great Gevser 255**, at a depth of sixty feet, and 
that of the Strokr 233°, at forty feet. 


streamed in arches from the cloud. Sometimes the 
steam divided and revealed the aqueous column shooting 
upwards in innumerable rays, spreading out at the top 
l^e a lofty pine, and descending in a fine rain. At other 
times it closed in thicker darkness round the centre, veiling 
it firom the eye of the spectator. Often its giant powers 
seemed exhausted, and the pillar appeared about to sink 
into the earth, when again the thunder rolled in the deep, 
and the vapours burst forth, rising to the sky. 

The eruption continued about ten minutes, when 
the water sunk down into the pipe, and the whole was 
again in repose. On looking into the basin, it was 
completely empty, and the water far down the tube was 
slowly ascending. Experience and the assurances of the 
natives told him, that this splendid phenomenon would 
not recur till the following day, before which he had to 
leave the place. But in a short time another spectacle of 
equal beauty and sublimity attracted his admiration. 

The new Greyser or Strokr, about 150 paces south-west 
of the former, which had hitherto remained inactive, be- 
gan to display its powers. This spring rises from a smaU 
mound four or five feet high, forming a border at the 
mouth of the tube, which is five feet in diameter, and 
filled with water to within ten or fourteen of the sur- 
&ce. A thick cloud of smoke suddenly burst forth, suc- 
ceeded by a liquid column, which was almost immediately 
dissipated by the violence of the eruption into fine spray, 
and rose to an immense height. From time to time 
jets shot upwards more than a hundred feet, and some 
large stones which had been thrown in, were cast out 
with great violence, rising almost out of sight, several of 
which ascended so perpendicularly as to fall back into 
the basin, serving for balls to this gigantic jet. The 
water was soon exhausted, but the clouds of steam con- 
tinued to escape with a whistling or hissing sound thxee 
quarters of an hour, when the eruption ceased, and the 
fluid remained boiling in the tube as usual. 

It is not completely determined whether these erup- 
tions, which are at once more beautiful and endure for 


a longer period than those of the Geyser, are, like them, 
ngolar in their times of occurrence. Reasoning from 
imalogy, we should expect them to be so, though the 
jntervals^ amounting, it is asserted, to two or three days, 
axe much longer than in any of the others. Its explo- 
■ions do not appear to depend in the least on those of 
the Geyser, eadi remaining unaffected during the acti- 
vity of the other ; and, indeed, all the thermal springs 
around seem, from their various levels, to be quite 

The fountain named by Sir John Stanley the Roaring 
Greyser, from its continual noise, in his time threw out 
the water every four or five minutes to a height of 
thirty or forty feet, and with such violence that it was 
^ shivered into the finest particles of spray." In the 
earthquake of 1789, however, the tube of this spring was 
destroyed, and there now only remains a considerable 
opening, from which a stream of gas issues at short in- 
tervals with a loud noise. Many of the other wells 
are very remarkable, and in any other region of the 
earth would attract great admiration, but here they are 
scarcely noticed amongst the wonderful phenomena in 
their vicinity.* 

• Krug vonNidda, Karsten's Archiv. vol. ix. p. 247-257. The 
oommon theory of these springs is well illustrated in the accom- 
panying engraving. It is supposed that there is a cavity, A, 
under ^ound, communicating with the pipe by a descending channel, 
in which heated vapours maj collect until they have acquired 
force suflScient to expel the incumbent waters. The frequency 
and violence of the eruptions will thus depend on the size of the 
cavern, the rapidity of the formation of steam varying with the 
temperature of the earth and the superincumSent pressure from the 
column of water in the pipe. For the intermediate small eruptions 
of the Geyser we must suppose another smaller cavity, B, more 
frequently filled and discharged. The different appearances of the 
Strokr and Geyser depend on the capacities of their basins, the as- 
cending column being probably not water alone, but a mixture of this 
with steam; a supposition which removes some diflSculties connected 
with this subject. The following are analyses of the water of the 
Geyser by Dr Black, and of that from Reikum, which much resem- 
bles it, by the same distinguished chemist, and by Klaproth, the 
quantity of water in each being 10,000 grains : — 


Many other thermal springs, which our limits will not 
permit us to notice in detail, are spread over the surface of 
the island. Near Reikum, south of the Thingvalla Vatn, 
more than a hundred of them are found stretching in a 
line along the bottom of the valley, and are, next to the 
Geysers, the most remarkable in Iceland, though far 
inferior in magnificence. In Guldbringe Syssel they 
are very numerous, some of them, more especially 
those near Krisuvik, depositing sulphur. The neigh- 
bourhood of the Myvatn and Krabla is also distinguished 
for several, which we have already noticed ; and near 
Husevik hot springs also occur presenting phenomena 
similar to those of the Greysers, but on a much smaller 
scale. The mineral waters of Sneefieldnes are known 
in Iceland on account of their slightly intoxicating 
power and acid taste, which have procured for them the 
name of Oellkildar, or ale-wells. These qualities are 
communicated to them by carbonic acid, which they 
contain in great profusion; along with it are found 
carbonate of lime, and, in some instances, the carbonate, 
muriate, and sulphate of soda. It is worthy of notice thai 
no thermal springs similar to those just mentioned are 
at present to be discovered in this peninsula, though the 
siliceous deposites still remaining prove them to have for- 
merly existed. In the valleys of tilie Nordur, Thuer, and 


Carbonate of Soda, 

Dry Sulphate of Soda, 

Muriate of Soda, 











• • 

10.75— Blade. 8.47— JBIocft. 9.B0—Klc^ofh. 

It is a curious fact that Dr Turner, in his analysis of water from 
the hot springs of Pinnarkoon and Loorgootha in India, found that 
their solid contents were essentially the same with those above, 
namely silica held in solution by free soda.* That the same com- 
ponent parts prevail in volcanic productions, and that these mineral 
springs are only found in the vicinity of volcanic or other igneous 
rocks, proves the opinion of their relation to be well grounded. 

* Edia. Journal of Science (1888), vol. ix. p. 95. 


Hvitaaes, parallel to the volcanic line of the Sneefield 
promontoiy, very many of these are seen depositing 
siliceous matter and exhaling sulphurous acid gas.* 

When we consider the situation of Iceland, in the 
midst of an open sea, which in general exerts a favour- 
able influence on climate, and also its position relatively 
to other lands, we might expect to find it enjoying a 
milder sky thaji some of the facts already stated would 
seem to indicate. But the sea-breezes too often, instead 
of elevating the thermometer, cast on the shore immense 
fields of drift ice, which produce the most intolerable 
cold. We need not, therefore, be surprised to learn that 
this island, though almost entirely in the temperate 
zone, approaches in climate nearer to the polar lands. 
In it there are only two seasons in the year, the sum- 
mer and winter, following so closely on each other that 
spring and autumn cannot be said to exist. The na- 
tives reckon the conmiencement of the former from the 
Thursday between the 18th and 24th of April, and that 
of the latter from the Friday between the same days of 
October. But in this division they are found to have 
allowed a greater length to the warmer portion of the 
year than the seasons themselves will justify ; the severe 
cold continuing after this period, so that even in June the 
fiords may be rode over on the ice. It is a common ob- 
servation both there and in Greenland, that the mildest 
winters are those in which the greatest cold prevails 
throughout the rest of Europe. 

The frost is most intense during the first three months 
of the year, when the sky is usually clear ; but on the 
coasts this rigour is somewhat lessened by the sea-breezes, 
though only in a small degree. In winter, in the south, 
the thermometer averages from 20° to 24° Fahrenheit, and 

* Mackenzie, p. 396-401. Some interesting remirks on the 
nature and distribution of the thermal and mineriu waters of Iceland 
will be found in Krug von Nidda^s paper in Karsten's Archiv. fur 
Mineralogie (vol. ix. p. 247-284), translated in Jameson's Phil. 
Journal (vol. xxii. pp. 90-110, 220-226), and a very full list of 
them is contained in Gliemann's Beschreibung (p. 42-60). 


in clear weather is often so low as 12° or even 5° ; whilst 
in summer the mean ranges from 45° to 73°. At Reikia- 
vik, according to M. Arago, the minimum temperature 
observed in twelve months was — 1*66°, the maximum 
in the same period being only 71 '6° ; but this is probably 
produced by the proximity of the sea, the waters of 
which rarely vary above two degrees.* It often, indeed, 
exceeds these points, descending in winter to — 13° and 
— ^26°, and rising in summer even to 82° ; and in the sun 
in Borgar Fiord it has been observed as high as 104°, on 
which occasions the heat compelled the peasants to leave 
their work during the middle of the day. The mean 
temperature at Bessastadir, near Reikiavik, is 39*2°, but 
in the centre of the island it is not more than 36*5°, and 
in the northern parts only a little above the freezing point. 
The thermometer, according to the Danish travellers, is 
highest at noon, when it immediately begins to descend, 
and this is so regular, that they sometimes determined 
the hour by it. The barometer, observed for two years 
by Horrebow, ranged from 28*06 inches to 30*64. Mac- 
kenzie found it from 28*01 to 30*5 ; the minimum, 
according to M. Arago, is 27*85 inches ; and its greatest 
variation in five years is said by Olafsen to have been 
nearly three inches.t 

As happens in other islands, the weather is subject to 
frequent mutations, seldom remaining the same so long as 
two or three days. Even in the middle of summer snow 
and hail occur, and in the end of June it often freezes 
during the night, whilst the temperature in the day is 
above 70°. The variations of the barometer are likewise 
numerous and sudden, falling or rising nearly two inches 

Nouvelles Annales des Voyages, tome xvi. (1837), p. 238. 


Travels, _ 

1758), p. 204-206. The numbers in this last author are given in 

French inches {26-^ and 26jg)t but we have corrected them to 

English. Arago's number is 26 inches 1*6 lines, and he states, 

that the lowest it has been observed at Paris is 26 inches 2*5 lines 

(27*93 £ng. inches), reduced to zero. 


in the course of twenty-four honrs. Nor are its changes 
so closely connected with the weather as in other lands, 
being often low when this is good, and high when it is 
the reverse. It has also been observed of the thermo- 
meter, that it is sometimes lower during a thaw than in 

The violent gales are more destructive to vegetation 
in Iceland than even the extreme cold. The wind blows 
almost constantly, being seldom still above a few hours ; 
and so nmch are the inhabitants accustomed to this, that 
they call it calm when it is only a moderate breeze. The 
heavier gales tear up trees and shrubs, strip the earth of 
its green covering, and loosening the rocks from the moun- 
tains, hurl them into the valleys. Whirlwinds are not 
common, except in the Hval Fiord below the Thyrill 
Mountain, but sudden gusts cause great danger to the 
fishermen in the narrow firths. The south winds are 
much dreaded in the north, firom the quantity of sand and 
ashes they waft along from the central districts, which 
darken the sky and destroy the pastures. These clouds, 
also known m other parts of the island, and named 
mistur or wind-mistur,are carried many miles, and colour 
the sky brown, red, or even black. During such tempests, 
the air whistling through holes in the rocks produces 
the most singular tones, as of a natural ^olian harp.* 

The greatest advantage which the winds bring to Ice- 
land is the dispelling of those dense fogs that gather 
on the land, sometimes covering only the mountain-tops, 
at other times only the valleys. These frostrog, as they 
are called, are most common during sea-breezes which 
have passed over large fields of drift ice. The clouds are 
then low, and the sky above blue and clear, when the 
cloud-bow is sometimes seen like a bright arch, in which 
the prismatic colours are seldom discernible. In winter, 
the most usual winds are the north and north-west, which 
increase the prevailing cold ; in summer, these alternate 

* Gliemann, pp. 13, 16. Olafsen, th. i. pp. 2, 206, 265 ; th. 
ii. pp. 13, 14. 


with the milder ones from the north-east, east, and 

Rain and hail are very frequent, whilst snow is com- 
paratively uncommon, and its flakes are remarkahle for 
their hexagonal form. Thunder is seldom heard, though 
offcener in some parts of the land than in others, and in 
winter than in summer. Lightning is more common, and 
is sometimes destructive, especially in the vicinity of sub- 
terranean fires and volcanic mountains.* The laptelltur, 
best known in the western parts of the island, is a veiy 
curious phenomenon, seen only in winter, during a 
strong wind and drifting snow. At night, the whole sky 
seems on fire with a continual lightning, which moves 
very slowly. This appearance frightens the natives ex- 
tremely, and they often lose many of their cattle by it, 
as the terrified animals, running about to avoid it, &11 
over the rocks.t 

An opinion has been very generally entertained, that 
the climate of the northern regions of the earth has in 
modem times greatly deteriorated, and the history of 
Iceland has often been appealed to in proof of this posi- 
tion. In a very interesting article by the late Sir John 
Leslie, contained in a former volume of the Edinburgh 
Cabinet Library,^; the general question has been ably 
considered, and this theory shown to be quite unfounded. 
We shall therefore only bring forward here a few of 
the numerous fitcts relating to this island which go to 
support his view. The names of Snioland and Ice- 
land, given to it by the first discoverers, and the reasons 
assigned for these appellations, show that it was 
then as much infested by summer snows and icebeigs 
as it is at the present time, — a circumstance which is con- 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. pp. 16, 61, 97, 162. This pbenommion 
and some others formerly mentioned seem to establish a more 
intimate relation between the interior of the earth and its external 
atmosphere than is generally admitted. M. Arago states, that from 
the 21st September 1833 to the end of August 1835, thunder was 
only once heard at Reikiavik. 

t Gliemann, p. 15. Olafsen's Reise, th. i. p. 208. 

X No. I. Polar Seas and Regions. 


firmed by the conflicts of the colonists with the polar 
bears, only brought thither by the ice. The stunted 
growth of the birch forests, which, covering the whole 
island, enjoyed a better soil and more protection than at 
present, strengthens the same conclusion. The trees 
were indeed so small, that it is noticed as something ex- 
traordinary, that two of the settlers were able to form 
ships of native wood, so large that they could sail in them 
to Norway. Even for building their houses and temples, 
they seem to have been dependent either on drift timber 
or on such as was imported from the mother-country. 
That those of the settlers who had come from agricul- 
tural districts attempted to raise com, was only na- 
tural, and there is proof that it sometimes succeeded. 
But this success was only partial, in good years and 
warm situations, and there is reason to believe that with 
equal skill and industry the same might still be accom- 
plished, as it was in the south in the time of Amgrim 
Jonas. That the attempts of Frederick V., about the mid- 
dle of last century, to re-introduce agriculture into the 
island failed, is undoubtedly true ; but this was caused 
by the want of knowledge and perseverance on the 
p«urt of the natives, and the high expectations of the 
Danish boors, who were disappointed at not raising crops 
equal in quality to those of Jutland. According to 
Ola&en, the com ripened as well as it ever does in the 
Faroe Islands, and, as he says, there 13 no proof that grain 
folly ripe and hard ever grew in Iceland.* 

Nothing has a greater effect on the temperature than 
the vast shoals of Greenland ice that in some years be- 
leaguer its shore ; but this appears to have been equally 
abundant in former times as at the present day. The 
worst season ever known in the island was that of 1348, 
when the sea all round was so completely frozen, that they 

* Am. Jonas Crymogea, p. 52. Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. p. 182- 
189, where a very carious accoant of these and some other attempts 
may be found. He thinks that the moist and inconstant weather 
had more effect on the imperfect ripening of the grain than the 
want of heat. 


could ride from one promontory to another. In the be- 
gmningof the same century (1306) the ice on the northern 
coast lay thirty feet deep the whole summer ; and that 
this was no new occurrence is shown by the years 1261 
and 1233, in which it is said never to have been dissolved.* 
We find, too, that in 1615 the ice surrounded the whole 
shore, and in 1639 came along the east side to Reikianes, 
whilst in 1696 it reached even to the Borgar Fiord. In 
the last century, the years 1717, 1742, 1784, 1792, were 
remarkably severe, though not so intensely cold as 1348 ; 
and these facts, to which many similar might be added, 
show there is little reason to think that any considerable 
change either for the better or worse has taken place in 
the climate of Iceland.t 

The remarks now made leave no doubt that the tem- 
perature varies much in different years, and to this we 
must add, that the relative situation of the land has more 
influence than its extent &om north to south seems at 
first to warrant. The northern coast is sensibly more 
frigid than the southern, and when beset with ice, the cold 
is sometimes extremely intense, changing the sununer 
into winter. In the beginning of June 1767, it was a hard 
frost at mid-day, even under the rays of the sun, and the 
grass had not then begun to grow. The cold during the 
preceding year was still more severe ; snow fell on the 
26th June nearly two feet deep, under which the grass in- 
deed sprang, but was not fit to be mowed until the end of 
August, when the ice left the coast. The winter of 1753- 
1754 was the most piercing the oldest inhabitants could 
recollect. The living horses ate the dead, "hide and hair ;" 
they even tried to appease their hunger by the wood of 
their stalls, earth, and other such substances. The sheep 
also tore the wool firom each other's backs. The very 
rocks were rent with the cold, and cracks were found in 
the earth forty fathoms long. Some smaller spots, from 

* Annal. Isl. Langebek Scrip. Rer. DaxL torn. iii. pp. 91, 103» 

•f- Olafsen, th. ii. pp. 157, 158. Gliemann, p. 12. 


their vicinity to the jokuls, are exposed to such evils every 
year ; as, for example, Sneefield-strand, at the foot of 
the Dranga J5kul, which in the heginning of Septemher 
was covered with thick snow, whilst on the opposite side 
of the Isa Fiord it was sunshine and summer. In the 
neighbourhood of the warm springs, frost is almost im- 
known, but the weather notwithst£inding is generally 
very inconstant.* 

The longest day in the southern part of the island is 
twenty hours, in tie north more than twenty-three and a 
half ; whilst from May to September there is no night. 
At the winter solstice the sun is seldom seen, yet the re- 
fracted beams give a full light. In the height of summer 
the solar disk appears always above the horizon, but of a 
dark-red colour, and imparting little warmth ; and though 
it is so long visible, yet from the obliquity of its rays, the 
heat does little more than melt the crust of frozen earth, 
which is usually four feet thick. In the long winter 
nights, on the other hand, the whiteness of the ice and 
snow, the light of the moon and stars, and the fitful 
gleams of the aurora, compensate in no small degree for 
the want of the brighter luminary. 

The northern lights, though not peculiar to Iceland, 
are seen frequently, and with great brilliancy ; some- 
times covering the sky with yellow, green, and purple 
flames. This light, reflected from the snow or ice, 
is also a remarkably beautiful phenomenon, as well as 
the cloud-bow and laptelltur formerly mentioned. Halos 
both of the sun and moon are well known, and mock- 
suns are so frequent that the natives have names for the 
di£Perent varieties. In the severe winter of 1615, it is 
related that the sun, when seen, was always accompanied 
by two, four, five, and even nine of these illusions. The 
effect of the atmospherical re&action in elevating distant 
objects is well known to the Icelanders, who call it upphU^ 
lingar^ and regard it as a presage of good weather. Fire- 

• Olafeen's Reise, th. L p. 274 ; th. ii. pp. 14, 15. Qlie- 
mann, p. 20. 


balls are most common during earthquakes and volcanic 
eruptions, and falling stars are seen at all times.* 

That this severe and inconstant climate can have no 
beneficial efiect on any of the organized objects placed 
within its influence will easily be believed. The vege- 
table and animal kingdoms both sufibr from it, and 
manifest its inhospitable nature by the paucity of their 
species as well as by their diminutive size. Even the 
human race, though from their rational endowments 
better qualified to guard against its immediate efi^ects, are 
yet compelled to own its all-powerful sway. To it 
they must adapt their mode of living, their food, dress, 
and employments, and this its indirect operation pro- 
duces the most important results. These, however, are 
more closely connected with a subsequent part of our 
inquiry, and it is suflicient here to have alluded to them. 

Along with all its disadvantages, there is one benefit 
which the Icelanders derive from the ocean, which per- 
haps more than compensates their other privations. It 
is only some seasons that the ice which it bears on its 
bosom remains so long aa to prove highly prejudicial, but 
every year it casts on the shore vast heaps of drift-wood, 
which supply the natives with fuel aud materials for 
building. This timber appears to come from two direc- 
tions, the current from the northern coast of Asia 
bringing it from the east, and the American or Mexican 
Gulf stream from the south-west. Owing to the gene- 
ral course of these, it is found in greatest quantities on 
the north-western side. The fiords in Strande Syssel 
enjoy it in most abundance, and in many of them it is 
seen piled up several yards thick, partly covered with 
sand or wild plants, and is often quite fresh. Trees with 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. pp. 161, 162. An extraordinary display 
of these last is noted in the old annals (Langebek, torn. iii. p. 34), 
as having been observed on the fifth of the kalends of November, 
in the year 977. This circumstance is curious, as connected with 
the recurrence of this phenomenon, which has of late years excited so 
much attention. The date, allowing for difference of style, would 
be the fourth or fifth of that month. 


their bark and roots are also very commonly found in 
good condition, having, from being enveloped in ice, 
either before or soon after they fell into the water, been 
preserved from injury and waste. The wood on the 
north-western coast consists of the pine, Scotch fir, lime- 
tree, birch, willow, mahogany, Campeachy wood, and 
the cork-tree ; on the east are found Scotch fir, silver- 
fir, birch, willow, and juniper ; on the coast near Lan- 
ganes, the Scotch and silver fir prevail. Associated with 
these come dead whales and seals, which are a great prize 
to the poor inhabitants. These have probably been kill- 
ed by the icebergs, which move faster than a boat can 
row, and, when dashing together, sometimes by their 
friction set fire to the wood contained in them.* 

* Olafsen's Reise, tb. i. pp. 264, 271-273. Gliemann, p. 66, 



Topography of Iceland, 

Ancient and Modem Division of the Island — South Ami — Reikiavik, 
History and Appearance — Videy — Printing-office — Reikianes 
•^Essian— ^Reikholt Snorra-laug — Cave of Surtshellir — Skal- 
holt, deserted Appearance of— -Thingvalla — Almannagiaa — West- 
manna Islands — Portland — Kirkiubaer — North Amt — Diupavog 
— Eskifiordr — Vale of the Lagerfliot — Husevik, carious Statue— 
Grimsoe, unhealthy Climate — Holum — Antiquities — West Amt 
— General Appearance — Mode of travelling in — Winds — Inha- 
bitants — Salt-works — Flatey — Sneefield — Helgafell — Stappen 
— Londragur — EUdborg — Baula. 

Iceland, according to the old constitution, was divided 
into four quarters, named, from the four cardinal points 
of the compass, the Sunlendinga, Westfyrdinga, Nord- 
lendinga, and Austfyrdinga Fiordungr. This distinc- 
tion, founded on the natural peculiarities of the country, 
continued till the end of last century, and is still recog- 
nised in all works descriptive of the island. But in 1770 
it was formed into two amts or provinces, to which in 
1787 a third was added, the western quarter retaining 
its former dimensions, whilst the eastern was divided be- 
tween the north and south. Each of these is subdivided 
into syssels or counties, of which the south contains 
seven, the north and west six each, and these are again 
cut down into hreppar, corresponding to our parishes, 
every one of which, by the old laws, ought to contain at 
least twenty ferm-houses.* 

South Iceland, including the south-west comer of 
it^ though situated under the mildest climate, is by 

* Hassel Erdbeschreibung, vol. x. p. 233. Gliemann, p. 184. 


no means the most beautiful or fertile portion. The vol- 
canic eruptions, of which it is the principal scene, have 
torn up and deformed its surface, whilst its soil is in 
general far from being rich or productive. It is separated 
from East Iceland by the Solheima Sand, from the 
north by the great mountains and jokuls, from the west 
district by the Boigar Fiord and Hvitau, and comprehends 
about 8500 square miles. The population in 1801 was 
17,159, but five years afterwards it had decreased to 
16,511. This province contains Reikiavik, the principal, 
or rather the only, town in the island ; which is placed 
on the south-eastern side of the Faxa Fiord, in a low nar- 
row plam, enclosed on the right and left by two small 
^illa^ and behind by a lake. It consists of only two 
streets, one along the coast and another running at right 
angles from the west end of it, distinguished by the public 
bidldings. These are the church, constructed of stone, 
covered with tiles, and not in very good repair, the 
prison, erected in 1769, and the houses of the governor, 
bishop, and some others. The private dwellings, with 
one or two exceptions, are built of wood in the Nor- 
wegian fashion, in the midst of small gardens enclosed 
by turf walls. This town is only of recent origin, 
though its name occurs in the early history of the island 
as the residence of Ingolf, the first colonist, and in 
Ola&en's time the foundation of the house where he 
drew his ship ashore was still pointed out. Attention 
seems to have been first turned to this place in the 
middle of last century, when a company for founding 
woollen manu&ctures was established there by the 
king. They received a grant of money and also of 
the &rm of Reikiavik, on which to raise their buildings, 
and to try the experiment of growing com. In 1806 
the number of inhabitants was 446, of whom twenty- 
seven were confined in the prison, but at present it is 
about 700, — a miserable population for the capital of an 
island more extensive than Ireland. It is, however, the 
largest town in the country, and contains the supreme 
court of justice, the Royal Icelandic Society, instituted in 


1704, a branch of the Icelandic Literary Society, formed 
at Copenhagen in 1816, a Bible Society, one of the 
results of the mission of Dr Henderson in 1815, and a 
pubUc library, commenced in 1821, and now containing 
above 8000 volumes, — ^institutions which prove that the 
inhabitants have not forgotten their wonted literary 

The harbour is one of the best in the island, having 
excellent ground for anchoring, protected from the heavy 
swell by a number of small islets. On some of these the 
custom-house and magazines of public stores were for- 
merly placed, but as they were frequently covered by 
the sea during high tides they were removed to the main- 
land. The commerce here is considerable ; and besides 
the packet from Copenhagen once a-year, it is visited 
by many merchant-ships from Denmark and other 
countries. From the 25th of June to the end of July 
an annual fair is held, frequented by the natives of 
North and West Iceland, when they carry thither oil, 
£y9h, tallow, buttier, fox and swan skins, and other native 
produce, which they exchange for meal, iron, linen and 
cotton cloth, tobacco, spirits, coffee, and similar luxuries. 
These strangers live in tents, and the town during their 
stay has an appearance of bustle and activity very unlike 
its aspect throughout the remainder of the year. 

On a rising ground in the neighbourhood is placed an 
observatory built in the year 1774. It is in longitude 
21° 55' west of Greenwich, and in latitude 64° 8' north. 
At a little distance in the bay is the island of Videy, 
where was formerly a monastery foimded in the year 
1226, and on which Chief-justice Stephenson, so well 
known by his writings and his hospitiity to strangers, 
latterly resided. It possesses now the only printing-press 
in the country, which, though it belongs to the govern- 
ment, is rented to the occupier for 200 crowns a-year. 
On the mainland, in the vicinity of the town, are also 
several hot springs, from which its name is derived.* 

* Henderson, toI. i. p. 10-13; vol. ii. pp. 159, 169. Mackenzie, 
pp. 79-83, 204. 


On a promontory running into this bay a little farther 
south is Bessastadir, where is now the only Latin school 
in the island. Hafha Fiord, one of the small trading 
stations, and formerly much frequented by the English, 
consists of a few houses, lying below a lava-cliff. This 
we may consider the commencement of the south-western 
promontory which ends in Cape Reikianes. The whole 
district bears evident marks of volcanic fires, and some 
of its mountains have lately been in a state of activity, — 
a remark which applies also to the small islets or rocks 
of EUdey and the Geirfiigla Skiaer, forming as it were 
its continuation into the sea. On the southern coast are 
the small fishing village of Grindavik, and Krisuvik 
celebrated for its hot springs and sulphur mines. 

On the western coast north of Reikiavik is Saurboer, 
near which the first Christian church was built by 
Oerlyg Rapson, a scholar of Patrick, bishop of the He- 
brides, and dedicated by him to St Columba. The 
mountain Essian south of Hval Fiord is remarkable for 
its precipitous clifis 2700 feet high, which run along 
the shore several miles without varying in height. 
Akkrefell, now well known from the interesting geolo- 
gical description given of it by Mackenzie, lies on 
the north of this firth, and, though somewhat lower, is 
yet similar in structure and appearance. At its foot is 
situated Indreholm, where are some fine-woolled Spanish 
sheep, and a curious water-mill, said to be the only one 
in Iceland.* Farther north is Leiraa, where there was 
formerly a printing-office in a miserable wooden build- 
ing in the midst of a bog. Here some books were pub- 
lished in the native language, amongst which Sir Greorge 
found a poetical translation of Pope's Essay on Man.t 

Reikholt in this district, on the south side of the 
Hvitau, is well known to the lovers of ancient Icelandic 
literature as the residence of the &mous Snorro Sturle- 

• Hooker, toI. i, p. 286. 

•f Mackenzie, pp. 135, 145, 153. Krug Ton Nidda, Karsten's 
Archiv. vol. vii. p. 445. 


son, and the place where he was assassinated. The 
remams of the virki or fortifications which he erected 
to protect himself from his numerous enemies are still 
pointed out to the traveller. But the Snorr^-laug or 
bath, formed by the waters of one of the hot springs 
which have given a designation to this spot, is a still 
nobler monument of his ingenuity. This, according 
to the Landnama, was used as early as 960, but was so 
much improved by the celebrated historian as to receive 
his name. It is fifteen feet in diameter, and con- 
structed of hewn stones closely fitted, and cemented with 
a kind of bolus found in the vicinity. It is also paved 
with similar stone, and surrounded by a bench formed 
of the same material and capable of holding upwards of 
thirty persons. Though 600 years have elapsed since its 
formation, the structure is still nearly as perfect as at 
first, and is often used by the natives.* 

But this specimen of the sldll of the old inhabitants 
is surpassed in interest by one of those wonderful produc- 
tions of subterranean fire which are found every where 
in this coimtry. We mean the cavern of Surtshellir, 
the largest and most remarkable, both in appearance 
and origin, in the whole island. It lies in a tract of 
distorted lava which has flowed from the Bald or 
Greitlands Jokul northwards into one of the sources of 
the Hvitau. In describing this cave we shall follow 
the account of the Danish travellers, which is the 
most circumstantial, and agrees in all important points 
with those of more recent visiters. At the entrance 
they found the roof fallen down about a gunshot in 
length, so that in this part it resembled a long rent 
twenty or thirty feet deep covered with pieces of broken 
lava. At the end of this was a dark opening thirty-six 
feet high and fifty-four wide, forming the mouth of 
the real cave, which has generally the same dimen- 
sions. Here they lighted a large wax-candle, brought 
with them from Copenhagen on purpose, and proceeded 
■ — 

* Landnamabok, p. 160. Henderson, vol. ii. p. 142* 


into the interior, the roof of which was hung with 

stalactites, its Walls glazed, and its floor covered with 

&llen fragments. They next passed a hole in the roof, and 

soon after came to two side-openings running at an acute 

angle with the main approach. The one on the right 

contained some hones of oxen and stones placed as if for 

a fire, hut nothing else worth noticing ; the other on the 

opposite side is larger and more curious, and is named 

the Viiget or Intrenchment Cave, from a wall huilt across 

it at a little distance from the entrance. As it is ahout eight 

feet ahove the floor of the principal vault, and is darker, 

it formed the most secure retreat for the rohhers and 

other outlaws who in former times frequented this place, 

and is mentioned as such in the Sturlunga Saga.* In 

it they found a number of hones of sheep and oxen, 

retaining their original form and colour, but so much 

decayed as scarcely to bear their own weight, and easily 

rubbed down by the fingers. It is fifty fathoms long, 

and in the middle there is a small pool of water, nearly 

two feet deep, but frozen at the bottom. 

After leaving this chamber they proceeded fiarther into 
the great cavern, when they soon encountered a wall 
dividing it into two apartments, one of which, however, 
soon terminated. In the other they passed some more 
openings in the roof, and a pool of water, also frozen at the 
bottom^ which had stopped Olafsen on a former visit, 
being Ihen too deep for him to wade. To this point the 
walls had been found glazed and the roof adorned with 
various stalactites of lava, but here both of these appear- 
ances vanished. After passing the fourth opening the 
groimd descended rapidly, the darkness increased, the air 
grew thick and close, and the cold became more intense. 
The floor was covered with ice, formed of curious five 
and seven sided cones or prisms, having much the appear- 
ance of the second stomach of a ruminating animal. At 
last they came to a heap of stones, near which was a piece 
of birch- wood retaining its form, but quite decayed and 
broken in two, showing that some time previously this 

• B. V. cap. 46. 


place had been visited by men. They repaired this pyra- 
mid, and left on it two coins, together with their seals 
impressed on wax. Henderson foimd the larger coin, the 
smaller, as he supposes, having fallen down among the 
stones, and also the impressions in wax, though nearly 
obliterated. About 220 paces farther on they reached 
the end of the cave stopped up with stones ; upon which 
they returned, carefully pacing the distance to the last 
opening in the roof, where they got out and measured 
the remainder above ground. According to this estimate 
the whole length is 5034 feet, or rather less than an 
English mile, to which it must nearly approach, as there 
are several windings in the interior. 

This cave was famed even in the first ages of Icelandic 
tradition, when it was believed to be inhabited by a 
giant named Surtur or the Black, in honour of whom 
one of the skalds named Thorwald composed a song and 
sung it at the mouth of the den. This jotun is probably 
that mythological person, the god of fire, to whom the 
Edda ascribes the destruction of the world, and who 
could scarcely have found a more appropriate dwelling. 
The fable probably arose from the name of the retreat, 
which properly is Hellerin Sortur or the Black Cave. 
Li the tenth century, it found more dangerous inmates 
in a band of robbers named Hellismenn, who took up 
their abode here and lived on plunder, but who were at 
last waylaid in a neighbouring valley and slain. The 
peasants, however, still regard it as the abode of spirits, 
and never venture to explore its dark recesses.* 

In this province, on the southern side of the chain 
of jokuls, are some remarkable places. Haukadal, 
where are the geysers already noticed, is also femous as 
the birthplace of the historian Are Frode, and near it are 
the remains of a bath dedicated to St Martin. Farther 
south is the old episcopal see of Skalholt, in a plain 
full of springs, near the imion of the Bruarau with the 

* Olafsen, th. i. p. 127-135, and plate zv., which contains a 
ground-plan. Henderson, vol. ii. p. 189- 198. Landnamabok, pp. 46, 


Hvitau. This was the first establishment of the kind in 
Iceland, having been founded in 1056 ; but the prelate, 
as already noticed, now resides in the capital, and the 
cathedral, said to have been the most magnificent build- 
ing in the country, has been replaced by a small wooden 
church. The relics of the first bishop, St Thorlak, whose 
name is or was lately in the calendar, were, together with 
his coffin, long preserved here. This ancient capital of 
Iceland, the Athens of the North in the middle ages, is 
now a miserable village inhabited by three families. The 
traveller, turning round the comer of a hill, is surprised 
when his guide exclaims that here was the residence 
of the learned and pious of former days ! But its glory 
has now departed, and the large burying-ground with 
its tombs alone tells of its comparative greatoess !* 

At some distance westward, and on the banks of the 
lake formerly described, lies Thingvalla, the court valley, 
the scene of many of the most interesting recollections of 
the Icelanders. It is a wide plain composed entirely of 
lava, the different layers of which are seen in the sides 
of the rents and fissures that every Where intersect it. On 
the east and west it is bounded by two of the largest of 
these, the Hrafnagiaa and the Almannagiaa, running 
parallel to each other at about ten miles' distance, and is 
divided by the river Oxeraa. The general assembly of 
the nation was instituted at this place in the year 928, 
and continued to be held in the open air till 1690, when 
a house was built for that purpose, but in 1 800 it was trans- 
ferred to Reikiavik. The consistory for ecclesiastical 
matters was convened on the east side of the river, the 
political court, or Lavret, on the west. The inhabitants 
still point out the Law-mount or Lagbieiget, where causes 
were tried ; the island Thorlevsholm, in the Oxeraa, on 
which criminals were beheaded ; the pool in the same river 
where female offenders, sewed in a sack, were drowned ; 
and finally, a high rock on the east side of the Almanna- 

* Olafsen's Heiie, th. ii. p. 226. Hooker's Travels, vol. i. 
p. 197-201. 


giaa, from the top of which such unfortunate persons as 
were condemned for witchcraft were precipitated into the 
burning pile. The road to the north still crosses this 
lonely plain, winding amongst the fissures in the lava, or 
descending the stair-like chasms by which alone they 
can be crossed. But the assemblies that formerly en- 
livened it are now no more, and in this ^' spot of sin- 
gular wildness and desolation, on every side of which 
appear the most tremendous efiects of ancient convul- 
sion and disorder, Nature now sleeps in a death-like 
silence amid the horrors she has formed."* 

The country to the south-west of the Hvitau is a 
great plain, watered by the Thiorsau, Rangau, and 
Markarflioty and, unless where wasted by tiie erup- 
tions of Hekla or Tindfiall, is fertile, though liable 
from its lowness to be overflowed by the rivers. Breidar 
bolstadr, and Odda the residence of Semund Frode, 
the author of the old or poetic Edda, are the only 
places worthy of notice in this district. Near the coast 
are the Westmanna Eyar or Islands, so named from 
ten Irish slaves who took refuge here after killing 
their master, Thorleif, in the year 875. They are four- 
teen in number, but only four are covered with grass, 
and not more than one inhabited. This and the rest of 
the group are mostly lava, amid rocks of which is the 
harbour usually frequented by foreign vessels for the 
purposes of the fishery. From their unprotected situa- 
tion, these islands were much exposed to the depreda- 
tion of pirates ; and in 1627 some Barbary corsairs landed 
upon them, killed the priest, Jon Thorstensen, one of 
the best poets of his time, and carried away many of the 
natives. After this, a small castle was built, which has 
now fallen into total disrepair.t 

The Sy ssels of West and East Skaptaafells, comprising 
the greater part of the south coast, are the most thinly 
peopled in tiie island, the soil being almost entirely de- 

* Mackenzie, pp. 318, 209. Olafsen, th. ii. pp. 171, 227. 
Henderson, toI. i. p. 31. 
"i* Olafsen's Reise, ih, ii. p. 131. Gliemann, p. 195. 


stroyed by ice or by the lava of the jokuls, whUst the 
numerous sand-banks and breakers prevent the success- 
ful prosecution of the fishery. Portiand's Huk, latitude 
63° 26' y is the most southern point in Iceland, but remark- 
able for nothing else. Near it is the mountain Dyrholar, 
rising from the fiat sandy beach, and named from the two 
door-looking holes which pierce its summit. Thykkabaer 
was formerly a convent of Augustine monks, founded 
in 1169, whilst the Benedictines, in 1185, took possession 
of Kirkiubaer, where is a curious group of basaltic pillars, 
on one of which, placed at the church-door, an ancient 
Runic inscription is engraved. Here the Papar or be- 
lievers in the gospel had formerly dwelt, and no heathen 
dared to reside on this holy spot, as all of them sickened 
and died. Ketell Fiflski, a Christian settler, at last took 
possession of it, and built a church here, probably the 
first in the land. Ingolfshofde is &mous as the place 
where the first colonist landed in Iceland, and resided for 
some time, and on a hill named Grodaberg, in the vicinity, 
is seen an old pagan altar. The only other place we 
shall notice is Loon, near the Westurhom, the dwelling 
of Ulfiiot, author of the first system of Icelandic law.* 

The Northern Amt or Province contains the whole of 
the ancient division of that name, together with the most 
populous part of the former Eastern quarter, known as the 
Mule Syssels. It is separated from the Southern Amt by 
the deserts and mountains of the interior, and from the 
western by a line drawn along the valley of the Hruta 
Fiord to the sources of the Hvitau and Bald Jokul. Its 
extent is about 8500 square miles, on which lived, in 
1801, 16,075, and in 1806, only 15,860 inhabitants. 
The Mule Syssels, on the east coast, are intersected by 
numerous fiords, on whose banks the dwellings of the 
natives lie scattered, in greater profusion than in any 
other part of Iceland. Diupavog, on the Bern Fiord, 
shut in by the lofty Bulandstindr and the sea, is a 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. pp. 72, 124. Gliemann, p. 196-201. 
I.iindnainft, pp. 143, 310. 


small trading village, remarkable for its curious trap 
veins or devil's waQs, as they are designated by the 
neighbouring peasantry. At some distance in the sea is 
the island Papey, where the Christian fishermen are said 
to have dwelt, and though only about a mile in diameter, 
is the laigest on that coast. Eskifiordr, one of the four 
towns of Iceland, lies in a tolerably fertile plain, at the 
foot of the Holmafiall, a curious four-sided pyramid- 
looking mountain, about 8000 feet high. The Rode or 
Reidar Fiord forms here a good harbour, and the town 
carries on a considerable trade. 

The vale of the Lagerfliot, commonly called the 
Herred, is accoimted one of the most beautiful and fer- 
tile districts in the coimtry. The river, like a peaceful 
lake, flows down the centre, adorned with many small 
islets, whilst on its sides the grass fields alternate with 
clumps of birch, willow, and juniper. The first of these 
trees is often seen twenty feet high, and wood fit for 
building houses is foimd here alone. The streams of lava 
which have desolated so many of the finest parts of 
Iceland, have not yet forced their way into this peace- 
ful retreat, where the farm-houses are seen in close 
succession, without those frightful deserts that divide 
them in other quarters. Numerous passes lead through 
the hills into the valleys on the south coast ; and it often 
happens that the inhabitants of these have to enter the 
Lagerfliot by one ravine, and leave it by another, before 
they can go into the next vale, because the mountain- 
wall that divides them is on some occasions altogether 

Notwithstanding its situation, the northern coast has 
many advantages over the southern and even the western 
parts of the island. The climate is but little inferior, 
the soil is deeper, the vegetation more luxuriant, and 
reaches higher up the sides of the hills, which are freer 
from snow. It is also intersected by many fiords and 

* Olafsen's Heise, th. ii. p. 69. Krug von Nidda, Karsten's 
Arehiv. vol. vii. p. 433. 


rivers, in which fish are yery abundant, and its inhabi- 
tants in good seasons are thereby well supplied with food. 
We hare already mentioned the most considerable firths 
and riyers, and also the volcanic phenomena of the 
Myyatn Lake and its neighbouring mountains, so that 
we have only to notice a few of the more remarkable 
localities. Husevik, on the eastern side of the Skialfande 
Bay, is one of the principal trading towns ; but as the 
coast is thirty feet above the level of the sea, and the 
landing thereby rendered difficult, all the goods must be 
conveyed to and fix)m the ships by means of a crane. 
Here Gardar landed in 864, and from the huts which 
he erected for passing the winter the place received its 
present name. The warm springs at Graeniadarstadir, 
in the stream flowing from which the trouts are said to 
become so &t that the natives cannot eat them, and the 
small lake of LiosaVatn, which ebbs and flows with the 
tide, are the most curious phenomena in this part of 
the country.* 

Akureyre or Eyafiord, is, next to Reikiavik, the most 
important commercial station in the island, and possesses 
a good harbour. It contains about twenty edifices con- 
structed of wood, three of which are warehouses, and 
near them aSre some gardens. The chief articles of export 
are salt beef, fish, oil, tallow, wool, woollen goods, and 
skins. Being situated at the end of the long narrow 
Ey& Fiord, it is often difficult for ships, particularly in 
spring, to reach it, owing chiefly to the numerous moun- 
tain-torrents that fall into the bay. The depth of water 
is usually eighty fathoms, and the position of the town 
is in lat. 65** 40' 30" N., long. 18° W. from Greenwich. 
On a hill in the vicinity is an old church, in which is a 
carious statue cut out of wood. It is the size of life, and 
represents a man crowned, with his &ce to the altar, and 
his right foot on the.neck of another lying on the groimd. 
The figure is said to be that of St Olaf trampling on one 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. p. 9. Gliemann, pp. 208, 209. 



of his heathen foes ; and this king is believed to have 
sent it along with the materials of the church.* 

Siglu Fiord, on the promontory westward from the 
Oe Fiord, is one of the best fishing-stations for herrings, 
which usually arrive on the coast in immense shoals in 
the months of Jime and July ; and it is said that one 
hundred and fifty barrels are often taken at a single hawl. 
Hofsos, on the eastern side of the Skaga Fiord, is a 
trading station, but with a bad harbour, and little fre- 
quented.t Holum, at some distance from the coast, is 
beautifully situated in the rich valley of Hialtadal. 
The place now consists of a few buildings, the most 
remarkable of which is the cathedral, built of red sand- 
stone, with a wooden tower, and the house of the last 
bishop, also constructed of timber, the only one of two 
stories in the island. The church was repaired in 1757, 
and is one of the best in the coimtry. The altar-piece, 
cut out of wood, represents the crucifixion, and is said to 
have been a present from the Pope to Jon Oegmund- 
son, the first bishop, who was elected in 1106. North- 
ward of this edifice is a long hoUow way, formed by 
the last catholic prelate, Jon Areson, as a retreat from 
his enemies. Before the altar is the tombstone of Gud- 
brand Thorlakson, the translator of the Bible, whose 
memory is still revered by his countrymen for his pious 
and benevolent labours. In the printing-ofl&ce here, he 
completed the first edition of the Scriptures in his native 
tongue, and two other impressions afterwards followed. 
The bishopric, and also the school, which was founded 
at the same period, after existing nearly seven centuries, 
were suppressed in 1801, being united with those in the 
south, to the great inconvenience of the northern pro- 
vince. At Hof, in the neighbourhood, is an old sacr^ce- 
stone of the heathen ; whilst south of it, at Aas, a ChristiaQ 
church was erected in 985, fifteen years before this reli- 
gion was established by the Althing.;]: 

• Olafsen, th. ii. p. 8. "f Mackenzie, pp. 234, 236. 

^ Henderson, toL i. p. 105*113. GUemann, p. 216. 


Only a few other places in this province are any way 
remarkable, as the small trading town of Skagastrand, 
<m the east side of the great bay of the same name ; and 
Breidabolstadr^on a small lake, where the first printing- 
press was erected in lo4d by Jon Matthieson, a Swedish 
priest. A little southward from this, on the Videdalsau, 
is an old castle, ahnost the only thing of the kind in 
the island. It stands on a basaltic rock about sixty feet 
high and 400 yards in circumference, with a fine spring 
of water in the centre, and is thought to have been erect- 
ed either during the wars of the Sturlunga, in the 12th 
and Idth centuries, or more probably at a still earlier 

The West Amt comprises the whole of north-western 
Iceland, and corresponds with the more ancient division 
of the Westfyrdinga Fiordungr. It is the smallest of the 
three provinces, containing only about 1400 square miles, 
and a population which in 1806 amounted to 13,978, 
being almost exactly the same as it was five years before. 
Besides Sneefieldnes and the other districts on the Faxa 
and Breida Fiords, it includes the whole peninsula, 
which is almost detached from the rest of tiie island, 
the distance from the Gils Fiord to the opposite coast be- 
ing only seven miles. The inhabitants accordingly have 
little intercourse either with their countrymen or with 
strangers, and retam more of the original manners of their 
Scandinavian ancestors than are found in other places. 

As already mentioned, this peninsula is visited only 
by a few strangers, and those generally of a character 
that renders them very unwelcome to the natives, being 
criminals who have taken refuge in this wild district 
where the magistrates cannot exercise their full autho- 
rity. Travellers on this account are regarded with 
suspicion and even terror by the simple inhabitants, 
many of whom have never been out of their own parish. 
Their principal employments are feeding cattle, fishing, 
and manufacturing articles from the drift-wood found on 

* Mackensie, p. 235. Olafsen, th. ii. pp. 64, 66, 


the coast, which they execute with great neatness, and 
in former times a considerable trade in this kind of 
commodity was carried on with no small advantage. 
On the eastern shore there are no places worth noticing 
till we reach the North Cape, which is about 1800 feet 
high, and composed, like most of the surrounding hills, 
of naked rocks. The country on the other side, named 
the West Fiords, has, from the number of those inlets by 
which it is intersected, been compared to an outspread 
hand, though this can give no idea of the immense quan- 
tity of smaller or secondary fiords that pierce it in every 
direction. The largest is the Isa£lardardiup, the northern 
side of which is almost entirely covered by the lofty 
Snaefiall, whilst the south is fertile, and contains clumps 
of birch and mountain-ash, the latter sometimes sixteen 
feet in length. At Reikianes, a little eastward of Vatns 
Fiord in this bay, a salt manufactory was established in 
1773. There were at first three pans, afterwards in- 
creased to thirty-two, warmed by the water of a spring 
in the neighbourhood, which has a temperature of 191 '^ 
Fahrenheit. But this adventure, an almost solitary 
instance of the Icelanders turning these fountains to any 
use, was persevered in only thirteen years, when it was 
finally abandoned.* 

In Bardestrands and Dale Syssels, on the north and 
east of the Breida Fiord, there are few remarkable places, 
with the exception of the island Flatey, which is distant 
about ten miles from the coast. It formerly contained a 
monastery, and in it, about the year 1440, the celebrated 
manuscript known as the Codex Flateyensis was written, 
which was afterwards carried to Denmark, and deposited 
in the Royal Library at Copenhagen. Many groups of 
small basaltic islands, mostly uninhabited, lie in the bay 
around it. 

The promontory of Sneefield stretches neiurly fifty 
miles into the sea, with a breadth varying from ten to 
twenty-five. A high mountain-range, probably a branch 

* Gliemann, p. 230. 


of the northern jokuls, runs along it, and terminates 
where the other meets the waves. This chain is closer to 
the northern coast, where it forms numerous elevated 
points, whilst on the south a more extensive tract of flat 
land intervenes. This is in some parts sandy, though in 
general wet and covered with an ahundance of fine grass. 
It was from one of the islets in the Hvam Fiord, near 
Breidabolstadr, that Eric the Red sailed in 983 for the 
discovery of Greenland. To the westward of this is Hel- 
gafell, one of the greatest heathen temples in Iceland, 
where a remarkable sacrifice-stone is still seen. Thorolf, 
one of the first settlers in this place, believed that after 
death himself and relations would inhabit this mountain ; 
on which account it acquired so sacred a character that 
no one was permitted to kill any species of animal on it, 
or even to drive them off when they took refuge there. 
Here also one of the provincial courts was held until the 
place was desecrated by blood shed in a quarrel.* 

The coast near Stappen, a small trading town, presents 
some of the most singular and beautiful rock-scenery in 
the island. The Londrangar, two natural obelisks rising 
from the sea, first meet the traveller from the west, of 
which the largest is 240 feet high, and only about thirty- 
five broad at the base. The rocks at Stappen (which form 
the vignette to this volume) nearly resemble those of 
Stafia in the Hebrides. Curious groups of basaltic pillars, 
generally vertical, at other times inclined or horizontal, 
and cut by the waves into fantastic forms, line the coast ; 
presenting an object of great interest to the geologist. 
Not less curious is the Saunghellir or Singing-hole, which 
is visited by all travellers. It is an egg-shaped cavity 
hollowed out by the wind in a sandstone clifi^ and is fif- 
teen feet high by ten broad. The entrance is by a small 
opening, and the inside is covered with inscriptions, 
mostly rhymes and magical characters, amongst which 
Ola&en observed the date 1483. When one sings or 

* Henderson, vol. ii. p. 68. Olafsen's Reise, th. i. p. 194. 


hums gently, the vaulted roof re-echoes the notes in a 
murmuring melancholy tone.* 

Myre Syssel, which alone remains to complete our 
circuit of the island, receives its name from the marshes 
that abound in its western and south-western districts, to 
such an extent as to make many places impassable, unless 
ih winter, when they are frozen over. It, however, con- 
tains the finest meadows in the country, on which the 
grass is sometimes found more than four feet high. This 
region, lying in the line which joins Sneefield to the 
central jokuls, contains many volcanic cones, hot springs, 
and other marks of the agency of internal fires. In 
Hytardal is the volcano of Husafell, where the lava 
forms numerous caves, some of them of great extent, and 
near this is also the Elldborg or " fortress of firej" so 
named from the resemblance of its crater to the walls of 
a castle. On Western Skarsheide there are also seven 
curious cones, formed of fragments of vitrified lava, 
and extending in a direct line from east to west. The 
Baula mountain in this syssel has hitherto proved 
inaccessible, and the natives believe that on its sunmiit 
is an entrance to a rich and beautiful country, con- 
stantly green, abounding in trees, and inhabited by a 
dwarfish race of men whose sole care is feeding their 
flocks of sheep.+ 

• Olafsen, th. i. pp. 145, 146. Henderson, vol. il pp. 36, 46. 
Mackenzie, p. 173-175. Landnama, p. 76. 
+ Hooker, toL i. p. 299. 


CoUmissation of Iceland^ and History of the Heathen Age, 

Pecoliarities of Icelandic History — Not the Thule of the Ancients— 
Naval Expeditions of the Old Scandinavians — Naddod discovers 
Iceland — Gardar — Rafba Floki — Papar, or British Christians 
— Ingolf, Founder of the Republic — Murder of Leif— Causes of 
Emigration — Mode of conducting it — Government — Division of 
Island — Hreppa — Poor-laws — Herads — Godar — Hereditary 
Magistrates — Courts of Justice— Old Oath — Lagmann — Althing 
— Christian Colonists — Thorwald, first Missionary — Olaf Trygg- 
▼ason — Thangbrand — Gissur — Debate in the Althing — Con- 
version of the Nation — Heathen Manners — Religion — Temples 
— Sacrifices — Superstitions — Trials by Ordeal — Single Combat 
— ^Piratical Expeditions — Treatment of Women — Houses — 

The history of Iceland is distinguished from that of 
every other nation by some singular and striking pecu- 
liarities, arising, for the most part, from its situation and 
physical constitution. Separated from other countries 
by a v^ide and stormy ocean, it possesses no internal 
riches to induce strangers to seek out its lonely shores. 
With the exception, therefore, of a few transitory in- 
cursions of some wandering bands of pirates, no hostile 
fleet has ever approached its coasts. Its intercourse 
with foreign states is thus nearly confined to the peace- 
ful relations of commerce, and even these are limited to 
a few of the neighbouring kingdoms. The internal dis- 
tribution of the population, Uving in small unconnected 
hamlets, divided by long tracts of desert country, or almost 
impassable mountains ; the want of large towns ; and 
the scarcity of provisions, which rendered it impossibly 
for even a few hundred men to remain congregated ii;i 


one place for a short period without producing a famine, 
have also impressed a peculiar aspect on its history. 
War, properly speaking, is unknown, the petty feuds 
and comhats of the early chieftains scarcely deserving 
that name. Even these soon ceased ; for the turbulent 
spirit of the ancient Northmen, which had been encour- 
aged by the freedom of their first institutions, gradually 
disappeared under the security of a foreign government. 
In its annals, accordingly, we find few of those events 
which fill so large a portion of the chronicles of other 
countries more densely peopled, and placed in more im- 
mediate contact with rival powers. The contests of man 
with man give place to the picture of man struggling with 
the elements— the tempos^ the volcano, and the earth- 
quake — for a miserable existence, and yet preserving 
amidst all the vicissitudes of his lot the advantages of 
civiHsation, literature, and religion. These &cts give 
a moral interest to the history of Iceland, and invest it 
with a charm it would not otherwise possess. The most 
incurious cannot look with indifference on the spectacle 
of a people^ seemingly condemned by nature to spend 
their lives in laborious poverty and ignorance, becoming 
the poets and historians of the age, and creating a 
national literature amidst the perpetual snows and lava 
fields of this remote island. Even the record of the 
physical calamities, the fiunines, pestilences, and vol- 
canoes, that have ravaged this devoted land, thus acquire 
an additional interest from our admiration of the energy 
of spirit which could preserve the love of science amid 
such complicated misfortunes. The history of this 
community is also of importance as teaching us never 
to despair of humanity, and proving that no outward 
circumstances can preclude the cultivation of literature, 
and the elevation of the popular character by the arts 
of social life. 

Notwithstanding the praiseworthy diligence of the 
native annalists, the ancient history of Iceland has not 
escaped those doubtful questions which aboimd in the 
early records of almost every nation. The Greek geo- 


grapher Strabo relates the voyage of a citizen of Mar- 
seilles^ named Pytheas^ to some of the most distant parts 
of Northern Europe, and amongst others to the island 
Thnle. Relative to that country he brought back 
many wonderful reports, some of which are undoubtedly 
feibulous, whilst others contain much truth, though 
often exaggerated or distorted. Of this kind are his 
statements respecting the length of the day and night, 
which he makes equal to six months each, and also as 
to the existence of that chaos of earth, sea, and air, 
which there forms the boundary of the universe. This 
last has been supposed to be a description of those dense 
fogs by which the Northern Ocean is often obscured for 
many days. He is understood to have lived about the 
period of Alexander the Great ; and many obscure 
notices of Thule are found in the subsequent Greek 
and Roman authors. Notwithstanding the scepticism 
of Strabo, who considered the whole story as fictitious, 
much discussion has been employed in modem times 
with the view of determining the various points of the 
voyage, and especially the locality of Thule, the utmost 
limit of the habitable world. A passage in the venerable 
Bede has caused many learned men to give this honour to 
Iceland, and believe that the Greek had visited its shores. 
But that this hypothesis is groundless appears from 
the descriptions of Thule in the classics, which, while 
they omit the most characteristic features of Icelandic 
scenery, contain many things quite inapplicable to this 
countiy. From its almost constant conjunction in these 
ancient authors with Britain, there is every probability 
that this land, if it ever had any fixed locality, and was 
not merely an indefinite name for the northern regions of 
the earth, must be sought among the islands on the north 
or west of Scotland. Without any further notice, there- 
fore, of the ancient Thule, we will now pass on to the 
account of the first discovery and colonization of Ice- 
land transmitted to us by the native historians.* 

* Much of the disputation about Thule seems to have arisen from 
aathors not dutinguishing the countries known under this name 


The numerous bays or fiords that intersect the Nor- 
wegian coast rendered some kind of navigation indis- 
pensable to the inhabitants. All the intercourse of 
those ferocious pirates, calling themselves kings of the 
sea, the island, or the cape, who then ruled those regions 
in almost total independence on the nominal sovereign, 
was conducted by water, on which also they had their 
petty wars and plundering expeditions. These soon led 
them beyond the limits of their own land, and, directed 
only by the stars, they made their way to every shore 
where there was a foe to conquer or despoiL In their 
rudely constructed vessels they spread dismay through 
France and Britain, taking permanent possession of the 
Hebrides and Shetland. In one of these wandering 
excursions, in which the winds or waves were fre- 
quently the sole guides, the Faroe Islands were disco- 
vered, and from their convenient harbours and position 
became a favourite retreat of the vikingr, or sea-robbers. 
One of these, Naddod or Naddoc, who had there found 
a refuge from the numerous enemies his piracies had 
created, was, when returning from Norway in 861, driven 
by a tempest far from his course. He seemed lost in 
the vast ocean, when an unknown land rose from the 
waves, towards the eastern shore of which he directed his 
vessel. Entering a bay, afterwards distinguished as the 
Reidar Fiord, the wanderer ascended the mountain of the 

at different times. In Strabo, Tacitus, and the other Greek and 
Latin authors, down to Claudian, it seems to be some part of 
Britain, inhabited, if we may believe the last, by Picts. 

« Maduerunt Saxone fuso 

Orcades ; incaluit Pictorum sanguine Thule. 
Scotorom cumulos fleyit glacialis lerne." 

Db Quabt. Cons. Hon. ▼. 34-36. 

The expression of icy Erin in union with Thule is curious, as 
scarcely even a poet who had heard of Iceland, with its Jokuls, 
would apply this term to Ireland. In the time of Procopius and 
Jomandes, Thule was transferred to Scandinavia, the western part 
of the empire being nearly forgotten. At a still later period the 
monkish nistorians, Britain and the North being now too well 
known, conferred the name on Iceland. 


same luime, to obtaiii a view of the surrounding country, 
that he might ascertain whether it were inhabited. But 
all was still and silent, no sound was heard, no smoke rose 
above the thick woods that covered the valleys, no sign 
of man was visible. Disappointed in his expectation, he 
immediately set sail for Faroe, and a heavy shower of 
snow having fidlen on the mountains as he was leaving 
the coast, he named his discovery Snceland, from this 
untimely appearance. 

The next whom fortune conducted to the shores of 
that island was a Swede, named Gardar, who usually 
resided in Denmark ; but having fallen heir, through 
his wife, to some property m the Hebrides, he sailed 
thither in order to recover it. On this voyage he also, 
after passing the Pentland Firth, was driven by a violent 
storm westward into the ocean, and at last reached the 
eastern coast of Iceland. Here, following the counsels 
of his mother, who was accounted a prophetess, he found 
a good harbour near the present Austerhom. From 
this place, sailing round to the north, he entered the 
Skial Fiord, where he built a house, in which he passed 
the winter, at a spot called, on this account, Husevik. 
This took place in the year 864, and having, in the fol- 
lowing summer, completed his circiunnavigation, he 
returned home. He gave a very favourable account of 
the new region, which having now been proved to be an 
island, was named after him Grardarsholm. 

These two discoverers of Iceland had visited it only 
by chance, and contrary to their own inclinations ; but 
its fame, now diffused through the north, impelled the 
adventurous Floki to explore its unknown shores. 
Though a pirate by profession (vikingr mikil), and accus- 
tomed to long voyages, yet the untried path he had to 
pursue induced him to have recourse to supernatural 
direction, the compass being still unknown to these 
daring mariners. Before leaving his residence in Nor- 
way, he offered a great sacrifice to his tutelary deity, 
and consecrating three crows, with a mixture of prudence 
and superstition, carried them along with him as the 


guides of his future progress.* He touched at Shetland, 
and Faroe, and when at a oonsiderahle distance from 
the latter, suffered one of the birds to escape, which 
directed its flight towards the islands they had last left. 
Judging that these were still the nearest land, he con- 
tinued his voyage for some time, when he had recourse 
to the second for advice. It rose to a great height in 
the air, hut perceiving no rest for the sole of its foot, 
returned to the ship frightened by the immensity of 
waters. The tliird, freed some days afterwards, proved 
moi^e propitious, winging its way to the wished-for 
shore, where Floki, following its flight, soon arrived. 
Like his predecessors, he flrst touched on the eastern 
coast, and sailing thence, along the south and west, at 
last landed at Vatns Fiord in Bardestrand. Here he in- 
tended to settle, but having in his eager pursuit of the 
fisheries neglected to collect sufficient food for his cattle, 
they all died during the winter ; and disheartened by this 
loss, he resolved to abandon the island. He however 
spent the next summer in exploring- the country, to 
which, on account of the quantity of drift-ice he discov- 
ered in some of the northern bays, he gave the name of 
Island or Iceland, which it has ever since retained. Hav- 
ing passed a second winter near Hafim Fiord, he returned 
to Norway in the spring, where his ingenious method of 
directing his voyage procured him the surname of 
Rafha Floki.t 

None of these adventurers had yet formed any perma- 
nent settlement in the island, though Floki subsequently 
took up his residence there. It seems to have been 
then entirely iminhabited, as they make no mention 

* The crow was always a sacred bird in the north, but as few or 
none are found in Iceland, the poets and magicians there made the 
raven supply its place. Those authors who wish to cast doubt on 
these eany records, represent this story as borrowed from that of 
Noah in the Sacred Writings. But besides the dissimilarity, we 
may mention that the inhabitants of Taprobane (Ceylon) are stated 
by Fliny to have used the same artifice when traversing the Indian 
Ocean. — Vid. Hist. Nat. lib. vi. cap. 22. 

•f- Landnamabok, p. 5-10. Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. i. p. 94-99. 
Crymogea, pp. 9, 10. 


either of haying experienced opposition in landing at the 
different points, or of seeing any people in their re- 
searches on shore. When the Norwegian colonists, 
however, some time afterwards, settled in the country, 
they found in many places signs of former visiters ; 
consisting of fragments of hooks in the Irish language 
(baekor Irskar), of bells, crosiers, and various other 
articles. From these relics it has been supposed that 
the adventurers must have been Christians either from 
the Western Isles of Scotland or fix)m Ireland ; but as 
they left no remains of houses or churches, they were 
probably merely temporary residents. Some imagine 
that they were fishers or pirates, who had taken up their 
abode there only for a few weeks or months in the sum- 
mer ; whilst others believe that they were monks, who 
sought for that holiness in the remote islands of the ocean 
which they could not find in communion with their 

Neither the repulsive name which Floki had conferred 
on Iceland, nor the still more unfavourable reports of 
its soil and climate which he spread abroad on his return, 
prevented others from following in his steps. This was 
no doubt partly owing to the different account received 
from his associates, one of whom, Thorolfr^ asserted that 
the richness of the soil was such that the very " grass 
dropped butter." The immediate cause of the next 

* Landnamabok, p. 2. Crymogea, p. 21 . These strangers were 
called Papa by the heathen colonists, it is said from Papa, the Pope. 
This derivation seems doubtful, as a tribe of the same name are 
mentioned along with the Petti, as inhabiting the Orkneys, where 
they were extirpated by the Northmen. The islands of Fapey, on 
the south-east coast of Iceland, of Papay in Orkney, and many 
other places, are supposed to be named after them. The whole of 
their history is involved in obscurity, and perhaps the old annaUsta 
bad their reasons for saying as Uttle about them as possible. — Bar- 
ry's History of the Orkney Islands, pp. 106, 107. The story of the 
conquest of this island, along with the Scandinavian kingdoms, by 
Arthur and his successor Malgo, found iu Galfridus Monumetensis 
(Geoffirey of Monmouth), has as little truth or probability as the 
army of 120,000 soldiers sent from these countries or islands as he 
calls them. Vid. Hakluyt, vol. i. p. 1-3. 


emigration however was one of those quarrels ending in 
bloodshed, only to be avenged by blood, so common in 
such times of war and violence. Ingolf and Leif were 
two cousins whose fathers had been obliged to leave their 
native province for murder ; and the friendship of the 
parents, which descended to the children, was rendered 
more close by the mutual love of Leif and the &ir Helga, 
Ingolf 's sister. The two companions had joined in a 
piratical excursion with the three sons of Atli Jarl, one of 
the most powerful of the Norwegian nobility ; and re- 
turning with great spoil, which was divided amongst 
them, it was agreed that the confederates should 
continue their expeditions together in the following 
summer. At a feast given by the cousins in the inter- 
vening winter, Holmsteio, one of the sons of Atli, 
vowed, according to the custom of the country, that he 
would either wed Helga or no other. Leif was not 
slow in manifesting his displeasure at this declaration ; 
and having soon after married the lady, with the consent 
of her brother, he thereby provoked still more the hatred 
of his rival. 

The opponents having met in the spring, a battle en- 
sued, in which Holmstein was slain, after which Leif 
and his friend set out on a plundering excursion. On 
their return they were attacked by Herstein, another of 
the brothers, who was also defeated and killed. By 
these repeated murders, Norway, where the relations of 
the deceased were very numerous, was no longer a sate 
residence for the two cousins, who had been condemned 
to banishment. Fittiag out, therefore, a long ship, they 
set sail to explore that land now well known by the 
adventures of Floki. They arrived there in 870, winter- 
ed on it, and satisfied, that with all its disadvantages it 
was preferable to their former abode, returned to Nor- 
way to prepare for their final departure. Whilst Ligolf 
was disposing of their efiects at home, the other made a 
voyage to Lreland, whence he returned with an immense 
booty and a famous sword, firom which he was after- 
wards named Thorleif, or Leif of the sword. Owing to 


these delays the year 874 arrived before they were ready 
to depart, and in that summer they sailed with their 
fsunilies and friends to lay the foundation of the Icelandic 
republic. Ingolf, unlike his associate, who never sacri- 
ficed to the gods, was not devoid of the superstitions of 
the period, and not only consulted the oracle before leav- 
ing his native land, but also took with him the conse- 
crated pillars of his former house.* These, on approach- 
ing the island, he committed to the waves, determined to 
be guided by their motion in choosing his new abode. But 
being separated from them by a sudden storm, he was at 
first forced to land on a promontory on the south-eastern 
shore, named from this event Ingolfshofde, where he re- 
mained three years. At the end of that time, his servants, 
whom he had sent in search of the pillars, found them 
cast on the beach, near Reikiavik, the present capital, 
whither Ingolf, in obedience to the supposed divine ad- 
monition, immediately removed, notwithstanding the 
remonstrances of his servants, who had seen many more 
enticing spots on their voyage along the coast. In the 
intervfiJ, Thorleif had also built himself a house at a place 
named Thorleifshofde, where in the next spring he began 
to cultivate the ground. Having only one ox, he com- 
pelled his slaves, part of his Irish plunder, to draw the 
plough, by which harsh treatment they were so enraged, 
that having waylaid him and his friends in a wood, they 
put them all to death. Ingolf^ on hearing of his mis- 
fortune, exclaimed, " What an unworthy fate, for a 

* Named Ondvegia sulur or Setstokkar : these were two long 
pillars set up on each side of the principal seat, and projectinqi^ about 
six feet beyond the roof^ and had the figure of the favourite idol 
carved on the top. This seat was generally opposite the entrance, 
and the fire burned in the middle of the house. The higher these 
pillars were, so much the more honourable was the master of the 
house accounted, and frequent quarrels were occasioned by them. 
Such was the passion for this ornament, that one of the first colo- 
nists sacrificed, or ta it is said gave, his son to Thor, on condition 
that be would procure them for him. The god is said to have been 
propitious, ana a tree twenty-one fathoms long, and two in circum- 
ference, was floated to the snore. Landnamabok, p. 134. Comp. 
pp. 498, 501. Olafsen's Reiev, th. ii. p. 39. 


brave man to &11 by the hand of ignoble slaves ! but 
such I have ever seen to be the lot of those who despise 
the sacrifices." Though disconsolate for the loss of his 
relative, and left, as it were, alone in a desert, he did 
not spare the murderers, but pursuing them to the West- 
manna Islands, where they had taken refuge, cut them 
all off. Having thus avenged the slaughter of his Mend, 
he returned home and appropriated to himself all the 
country from the river Olvusa to the Hval FiordL* 

Ingolf did not long remain without companions in 
his island-dwelling ; for the ambitious projects of Harold 
Haar&ger, who, not content with the authority enjoyed 
by his predecessors on the Norwegian throne, endea- 
voured to reduce to complete subjection the inferior kings 
or jarls, and to impose a heavy tribute on them, caused 
many of their number to look for peace and freedom in 
other lands. The extensive bays and numerous islands 
that surround the Norwegian coast, especially in the vici- 
nity of Trondheim, were the spots where the ancient spirit 
of the north and generous love of independence had 
struck the deepest root. When, therefore, the decisive 
battle of Hafrirs Fiord had destroyed all hopes of liberty 
at home, the chiefs who escaped that bloody day, heard 
with joy that their bold countrymen had settled in a 
land whose waters swarmed with fish, whose mountains 
were clothed with wood, and where ** men had nothing 
to fear from the oppression of kings or tyrants." Whilst 
the reasons for emigration were principally felt by those 
sear-bom heroes who had most to dread from the ven- 
geance of the victorious monarch, it was only they who 
could undertake the voyage ; and as this adventure often 
consumed five or six months, it could not be attempted 

* Landnamabok, p. 10-19. Arse Frodes Schedse, p. 6, &c. 
Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. ii. d. 99-103. Crymogea, p. 18-21. The 
tomb of this old hero is still pointed out on Insolfsfiall, a high hill 
on the bank of the former river. It overlooks the surrounding 
bygds, and he chose it that at the resurrection he might have a 
better view of the land of which he had been the first inhabitant. 
01a£sen's Reise, th. ii. p. 132. 


except by those possessed of large ships, and who also 
were able to provide sufficient stores. Hence the per- 
sons who colonized this island were not the mere refuse 
of the mother country, but the best and bravest of 
Norway's sons, who, proud of the freedom they had in- 
herited from their &thers, sought to secure it amid the 
icy deserts of the north. 

Numerous chiefs, accompanied by their friends and 
dependents, continued to flock towards Iceland for sixty 
years, when the causes of emigration having ceased, and 
the best ground being occupied, it gradually stopped. 
Among these adventurers there were many Swedes and 
Danesy and several natives of the British isles, from^ 
whom some of the present inhabitants claim their 
origin.* The emigrants from Norway were at one 
time so numerous, that Harold, fearing the depopulation 
of hiB kingdom, forbade any one to leave it without 
permission, and imposed a tax of Ave aura or ounces of 
fine silver on all who went to settle in the new colony. 
But the king's orders were of little avail ; those who 
had dared to oppose his arms not being much inclined to 
respect his edicts or proclamations.t 

* Landnamabok, pp. 26, 29, 30, &c. Henderson's Travels, vol. 
u. p. 132. 

t Landnamabok, p. 379. Aree Frodes Scheds, ch. ii. iii. The 
eolonists usually took the Shetland and Faroe Isles in their way ; so 
that the voyage must have been from seven to eight hundred 
mUes long, performed in vessels little better than open boats. As 
there is no mention made of any shipwrecks, the pious Arngrim 
Jonsen ascribes their preservation to the miraculous interposition 
of ProTidence, guiding them; like the Israelites of old, from Nor. 
wegian slavery, through the immense and raging ocean, to this Ca> 
naan of the north : — Sine amusio, et pyzide nautica, vel gnomone 
Magnetico, huic orbi nondum cognito ; sine antlia, ad sentinandas 
naves, nondum his inventa hominibus. — Ut manifestius appareat, 
pnmarum coloniarum successus, singular! Dei favore directos esse. 
Vjd. Spec. Isl. pp. 86, 87, which may almost be translated in the 
following words of an old poet of our own land : — 

What should we do, but sing His praise 
That led us, through the watery maze. 
Unto an isle so long unknown. 
And yet far kinder than our own. 


The manner of conducting these colonies was singn-, 
larly characteristic of the people and the period. The 
chief was generally some celehrated pirate or rebel, who 
found it no longer safe to reside in his native land. He 
was accompanied by his relations and other freemen 
who had been his associates in former marauding excur- 
sions, and were still ready to follow him in any adven- 
ture. Having disposed of all their immovable property 
at home, and collected their servants, slaves, and cattle, 
they embarked along with their whole family. The 
more superstitious also carried with them part of the 
materials of the temple dedicated to their favourite 
^dcity, and particularly the earth from below the altar 
on which the images of Thor or Odin stood. The 
situation of the new settlement, too, was usually com- 
mitted to the choice of the same divinities, manifested 
by the agency of the winds and currents. As soon as 
they came within sight of land, the commander of the 
ship, invoking Thor, cast into the sea the sacred pillars 
which had adorned the paternal seat in their former 
mansion, and wherever these were thrown on the shore, 
there the gods were understood to have decreed that the 
new colony should be established.* Their first em- 
ployment was to take solenm possession of a portion 
of the unoccupied land, either, as they said, by surroimd- 
ing it with fire, or by raising heaps of stones on its 
boundaries. This territory the leader afterwards divided 
among such of his followers as were freemen, reserv- 
ing psuii for himself.t 
In these customs we see the true spirit of the enter- 

Where He the huge sea-monsters racks, 
That lift the deep upon their backs ; 
He lands us on a grassy stage, 
Safe from the storms and '' tyrants' rase." 

The Emigrants, by And, Marvel. 

* Many instances of this are found in the Landnamabok (pp. 14, 
20, 210, 298, 354), the Eyrbyggia (p. 8)) and other sagas. 

t Landnamabok, pp. 207, 230, 315. Hist. Eccles. IsL vol. i. 
p. 8-10. 


prise, and the germ of the future constitution of the re- 
puhlic. It fonned no nest of pirates, but a new land to be 
cultivated in peace, where, according to the old custom 
of the north, every man might live in his own district 
(herad), under his own chief. Many of the first settlers 
had, however, taken possession of lai^er tracts of ground 
than they could make use of in any reasonable time ; 
and aa the evil effects of this soon became apparent, the 
inhabitants, following the advice of King Harold, allowed 
no man to appropriate more land than he could surround 
with fire in one day.* 

As long as there was room enough in the island, and no 
man needed to encroach on his neighbour's possessions, 
this patriarchal form of government under their pontiff- 
chieftains sufficed for all the wants of the state. None 
of the original colonists had so much power or influence 
as to endanger the liberty of the others, and each occu- 
pied that portion of ground which pleased lus £mcy, 
in perfect independence. Almost all were of Norwegian 
descent, and united by the bonds of kindred or of 
friendship, often in those ages a more enduring tie. Ami- 
cable compacts were long the only ones here known ; 
and quarrels that could not be composed by the media- 
tion of mutual friends, were soon decided by the sword. 
But when the inhabitants began to press on each other, 
these independent tribunals were found insufficient to 
preserve the order of society, and the necessity of some 
common government, some general laws, and supreme 
court of appeal, became apparent. In their native land 
they had been accustomed to assemble at the Things 
near the idol temples, to celebrate the great feasts that 
marked the close of the harvest, as well as the season 
of Julie, or the beginning of winter. These meetings, 

* Landnamabok, p. 322. The manner in which this was done, 
was either for a man to mn round the boundaries with a torch, set- 
ting fire to the grass at the extremities ; or a fire was kindled in 
the centre at six o'clock in the morning, and the chief occupied as 
much ground as he could encompass before the same hour in the 
evening, keeping always in sight of the smoke. 


which were indeed almost indispensable in such a thinly 
peopled land, still continued among the colonists, and on 
them they modelled their political institutions. Thor- 
stein, the son of Ingolf, first convened his countrymen 
at Kialames, in the southern part of the island ; but 
the regular assembly, or Althing as it was called, 
was instituted by ULfliot, to whom the Icelanders in- 
trusted the important charge of providing them with 
a form of government. Though already in his sixtieth 
year when his wisdom and integrity procured him this 
distinguished honour, he undertook a voyage to Nor- 
way, that he might study to more advantage the insti- 
tutions of the parent country. Here during three years 
he sat at the feet of Thorleif the Wise, and on his return 
to Iceland, fi<amed, with the aid of Grim Geitskor, a code 
of laws which, in the year 928, was accepted by the 
national assembly, now transferred to Thingvalla.* 

The Icelandic legislators, following the natural bound- 
aries of the land, divided it into four parts or fior- 
dungar; each of these was again divided into three, 
except the northern, which, on account of its size, was 
separated into four, in each of which there were three 
principal temples or hoffs ; and these thirds were again 
subdivided into smaller sections or hreppar, generally 
ten in number, and nearly corresponding to the mo- 
dem parishes. In every one of these divisions there 
were magistrates, in whose election the popular voice 
had more influence than in the mother-country. As the 
laws of Ulfliot were not conmiitted to writing till nearly 
two centuries after his death, there is considerable diffi- 
culty in pointing out the limits of the authority and the 
duties of these officials. The inferior magistrates were 
the hreppstiorar, five of whom were chosen by the 
people in each of the corresponding divisions, and who 
were required by the law to be men of wisdom and inte- 
grity, and also possessed of a certain amount of fixed pro- 
perty, unless the former qualities were so conspicuous that 

* Landnamabok, pp. 299, 300. Crymogea, pp. 56, 75, 80. 


this last might be dispensed with. Besides distributing 
justice to the inhabitants of their district, they supplied 
in some measure the place of censors, having ch^e of 
the public morals and the care of the poor. In a coun- 
tiy where the bounties of nature are dispensed with so 
sparing a hand, and where it requires the utmost exer- 
tions of every individual to provide even the necessary 
food and clothing, poverty, when caused by negligence 
or crime, was held as a political offence. The statutes on 
this subject form one of the most curious portions of Ice- 
landic legislation, in which the influence of physical situa- 
tion is most clearly manifested. These laws regarded 
either the prevention of pauperism, or the support of those 
who had, without any fault of their own, fallen into want. 
For the first they provided by depriving culpable paupers 
of all the rights of citizenship, excluding them from the 
assemblies of the people, depriving those children who 
had been brought up by begging, of all claims to inlierit 
property, until they had gained their food for three 
years by more honourable means ; forbidding any one 
to relieve beggars, and subjecting them to arbitrary 
punishments so severe, as sometimes even to cause their 
death.* For the second they instituted a scheme for 
insuring property against those accidents to which it was 
most exposed ; whereby the inhabitants of each hrepp 
were bound to assist in repairing the loss sustained by 
any of their number, in cases of fire or the destruction 
of their cattle by storms or pestilence, a jury being ap- 
pointed to estimate the damage witliiu fourteen days. 
When, notwithstanding these precautions, any one was 
reduced to want by old age, disease, or unavoidable con- 
tingencies, the magistrate saw him provided for by his 
relations, or, when these were unable, at the public 
expense. But, in order that the hrepps might not be 
too heavily burdened, they could exclude any one from 

* Lex de ejusmodi mendicis impune castrandis etiamsi cum eorun- 
dem nece coDJunctum foret. Tit. de pup. cap. 33. Ne videlicet 
hostiatim vivendo liberos gignent similes parentibiis, Crymogea, 
pp. 67, 66. 


settling in their bounds who was likely soon to become 
dependent on such aid.* 

The next superior magistrate was the prefect of the 
provinces or herads. As the extent of these divisions in 
general corresponded to the original division of the 
land among the leaders of the colonists, so did this 
office closely resemble that of these pontiff-chieftains. 
They were at once the judges and the priests of their 
respective districts, presiding in the provincial assem- 
blies, and administering the sacred rites in the temples 
of the goda. Their office, in the language of the country, 
"jvas called godard, and themselves godar, or hofgod^^ 
reminding them that they, like the deity whose name 
they bore and whose laws they dispensed, should be 
models of wisdom, justice, and virtue. This station being 
in general heritable, the son succeeding the fether, has 
occasioned the Icelandic republic to be named an aristo- 
cracy. The privileges connected with it were not con- 
siderable, and the revenue was very limited. It could 
be sold, and was often taken instead of the fine imposed 
for an offence. Most of the profit arose from the small 
tribute paid by each farm to the temple, part of which 
Went to support the building and supply the sacrifices, 
andsthe remainder was considered as a compensation for 
his expenses in attending the Althing. Other sources of 
revenue were presents from those whose cause he sup- 
ported, and a duty imposed on each ship that stopped to 
trade in his territory. But, generally speaking, his 
principal income arose from his large private posses- 
sions, and his influence was almost entirely of a personal 
nature. Hence it often happened that some other 
powerful chief not only obtained more authority ia 
the province than the prefect himself, but had a larger 
body of dependents, as is related of Olaf Paa after hia 
return from his fiur-famed expedition to Ireland.f 

* Am. Jon. Crymogea, p. 69-71. 
. t Laxdala Saga, cap. 8. MUllcr, Island. Hist. pp. 10, 11. Arn. 
Jon. Crym. p. 72. ' Landnamabok, p. 301. It says that in th« 


In these higher, as also in the inferior divisions, ge- 
neral meetings of the whole inhahitants were commonly 
convened once a-year at the principal temple. Extraor- 
dinary ones were held at other times and places when 
necessary, particularly on the occurrence of any murder 
or duel. The warning to attend these assemhlies in 
the heathen period was a wooden mallet or Norway 
axe, named Thorns hammer (hamar Thors), afterwards 
changed into a cross, which, like the fiery signal of our 
Highland clans, each farmer was hound to forward to 
his neighbour, with a notice of the time and place of 
gathering. Most disputes were decided in these popular 
councils, where power and the influence of friends were 
often of more avail than truth or equity. Before a 
trial, the judges, parties, and witnesses, were all sworn 
to act in their several places without guile, fraud, or 
injustice. The form of administering the oath was this : 
— On the altar of each temple lay a silver ring weighing 
at least two ounces ; this the judge dipped in the blood 
of a boll slain in sacrifice, and each in his turn touching it 
said, " So help me Freyr and Niordr, and that Almighty 
As (Grod), as in the present cause I shall act rightly, 
truly, and conformably to the laws."* No one, when 
called as a witness, was at liberty to refuse to give his 
testimony, whoever did so being prohibited from ever 
afterwards acting in that capacity, or from calling any 
honourable person to testify in his behalf. At the same 
time, the parents and other near relations of the parties 
were excluded from appearing.t 

The next higher magistrate was the lagmann or lag- 
Bogumann, that is, the promulgator of the law. He 

hMthen times every one ** gefa toll til boffins sem nu til kyrkio 
tinnd ;" that is, ** gave toll or tribute to the temple, as novr tithe 
or teinds to the church." 

* The original is, ** Healpi mer sva Freyr oc Niordr oc hinn 
almattki As." By the last As or God is generally understood 
Odin, the leader of the iBsir or Asiatic conquerors of Scandinavia. 
Perhaps it was a kind of compromise between his worshippers and 
the party who still adhered to the more ancient Thor. 

f Crymogea, pp. 61, 71. 72, 76-78. Landnamabok, p. 300. 


was the supreme judge of the island, and president of 
the general assembly or Althing. His office was thus 
twofold, having the right, in union with the other chiefs, 
to declare and explain the law, or even to alter and 
amend it ; whilst, as first magistrate, he was not onl j 
bound to enforce it, but to take care that it also should 
be observed by his inferior officers. During the two 
centuries that the laws of Ulfliot were preserved only 
by tradition, he was their great depositary, it being part 
of his office to recite them annually in the national 
assembly ; and when they were subsequently committed 
to writing, the authentic copy was confided to his care. 
He was at first chosen for life, though afterwards for 
a shorter period, and was always regarded as the head 
of the republic, time behig dated fix)m the year of his 
election. His authority, which was not great, was almost 
limited to the sitting of the Althing. This assembly, the 
mLain point of national union, was, as we have already 
mentioned, annually held on a level plain, near the 
shores of the Thingvalla Lake, the place of meeting 
beiog pointed out by a rugged insulated rock, named 
the Lagbierget or Law-mount. It generally commenced 
about the middle of May, and continued fourteen 
days ; every freeholder having a right to attend, and 
to give his opinion on all the questions brought 
forward. This privilege was highly valued by the 
people, and those who did not avail themselves of it 
were despised and reproached by their neighbours. In 
this court all matters connected with the general inte- 
rests of the island were discussed ; the decisions of the 
inferior courts revised ; disputes between two or more of 
them decided ; and here any of the subordinate magis- 
trates might be tried, and if found guilty, deprived of 
their office. The lagmann was chosen by this assembly, 
and Ulfliot is sometimes accounted the first of that order, 
though properly it was not till 930, two years after the 
introduction of his laws, that it was instituted. Thirty- 
one persons are recorded in the annals as having held this 
appointment during the 882 years that the republic 


existed, and of these seven, amongst whom is Snorro 
SturlesoD, the author of the Edda, were twice chosen.* 
Such were the institutions and government of the 
Icelandic commonwealth, which, though formed in what 
we are wont to consider as an age of ignorance and barha- 
rity, is yet worthy of more attention than it has obtained. 
"But &me," it has been well observed, "is not the portion 
of indigent nations, especially when remote, unconnect- 
ed with the rest of mankind, and placed under a rigor- 
ous climate."f The reputation of the poets and his- 
torians who sprung up under its sheltering influence, 
and whose writings shed a solitary gleam of light over 
that the darkest period of European history, might 
have merited for it a better fete. They have indeed, 
in some measure, rescued it from oblivion, but this was 
e£Pected rather because they illustrated the history of 
other lands than of that which gave them birth. Many 
things in these institutions were undoubtedly borrowed 
from the old customs of the parent land, — a proof 
of the wisdom of the legislator, who sought not what 
was new, but what was useful and fitted for the nation 
he had to deal with. The habit of meeting in courts at 
certain seasons, to confer on the common weal, was 
frequent in all the tribes of Scandinavian descent, and 
had a deep root in the social dispositions of the people. 
In Iceland, the scattered situation of the huts, and 
lonely life of the inhabitants, rendered it still more 
necessary and desirable. But here they assumed a 
freer character than in Norway, where, from time im- 

* The names and date of election of those before the introduc- 
tion of Christianity were Rafoer, 930 ; Thorarin, 950 ; Thorkell 
Mane, a grandson of Ingolf and son of Thorstein, who first 
called an assembly, 970; Thormod, son of the last, 983; and 
Thorgeir, in whose time heathenbm was abolished, 996. Am. 
Jon. Crymogea, pp. 73-75, 80, 81. An. Island. Reg. Langebek 
Script. Rer. Dan. torn. iii. pass. ArsB Erodes Schedse, p. 15. 
Wheaton^s History of the Northmen, p. 36-41. Another court 
was held, on some occasions, in the quarters, named Fiordunga- 
thing, but it is little known, and seems to have had no regtUar 
place in the constitution. 

•f Mallet's Northern Antiquities, vol. i. p. 154. 


memorial, the most powerful proprietors had nominally 
acknowledged the superiority of the king. If the reins 
of authority were too loosely held, and violent, amhitious 
men were sometimes ahle to set the power of the magis- 
trate at defiance, the same, it ought to he remembered, 
happened in an equal or even greater degree in all the 
other countries of Europe. If part of its stability is to be 
ascribed to the peculiar circumstances of the settlers, it ia 
nevertheless remarkable as the first instance of a free 
nation united solely by moral ties, and a knowledge of 
their mutual interests. There was no external interfer- 
ence which, exciting a spirit of patriotism, might contri- 
bute to preserve its union. It relied solely on its internal 
principles ; particularly a deep-felt reverence for the law ; 
and it is probable that but for foreign interposition it 
might have subsisted a still longer period, and recovered 
&om those intestine dissensions which hastened its &11. 
These arose from what appears to have been its greatest 
defect, the want of any counterpoise or check to the 
power of the hereditary magistrates or aristocracy.* 

The next event of importance in the history of the 
island is the introduction of Christianity. Several of 
the original colonists professed that religion, and though 
exposed to the persecution of their heathen brethren, 
adhered to it till their death. But these few prose- 
lytes do not appear to have converted any of their 
countrymen, and even their own children, relapsing to 
the old faith, are known to have built temples, and 
sacrificed to the heathen idols. The first missionary in 
Iceland was Thorwald Kodranson, who having, during 
his travels abroad, been baptized in Saxony by a bishop 
named Frederick, persuaded the latter to accompany 
him on his return to his native land. Here Thorwald 

* ** Aussi regna-t-il long-temps en Islande plus de liberie et de 
sCirete que dans aucun etat de I'Europe ; et, lorsqu*on se rappelle 
que cet etat democratique fut fonde dans I'age de la barbaric, 
on ne peut refuser son admiration a la sagesse qui presida a la 
fondation de la colonie d'Islande." — Depping, Hist, des Ezped. 
Mar. des Normands, tom. ii. p. 51. 


eonverted his father and family, and, along with the 
stranger, made many journeys through the island on 
purpose to promulgate their opinions. They met with 
much opposition and many strange adventures, one of 
which we shall relate as illustrative of the helief and 
manners of the age. In the year 984, some time after 
his return, Kodranson celebrated his marriage with much 
splendour. Among the guests were two Berserker, 
named Hanke, more celebrated for their pretensions to 
magical powers than for their respect to religion, who 
challenged the Saxon to a trial of strength on the part of 
their respective deities. Confident in the goodness of his 
cause, the latter did not decline the contest, which was 
to be decided by the parties walking uninjured through 
a large fire. The bishop, sprinkling it with holy water, 
destroyed the efficacy of the Berserker incantations ; 
and the magicians, according to custom, entering the 
flames, with drawn swords in their hands, were in- 
stantly consumed. The priest is said to have suc- 
ceeded better, as not even his clothes were touched by 
the fire. His opponents were buried in a neighbouring 
cave, whose name of Haukagill still preserves the tradi- 
tion of their fate.* 

Their success in converting the nation was by no 
means commensurate with these miraculous endow- 
ments. When Thorwald endeavoured to persuade the 
Althing to embrace Christianity, the heathen party not 
only rejected his proposal, but engaged poets to turn 
him and his religion into ridicule, — a weapon charac- 
teristic of the time and country. Thorwald slew two of 
them whose satires had been most severe, close to the tent 
where the bishop was sitting so absorbed in his studies, 
that some drops of their blood fell on his book without 

* Landnamabok, p. 199. '* Such incidents make an invariable 
part of the history of a rude age, and the chronicles which do not 
afford these marks of human creduUty may be grievously suspected 
as deficient in authenticity.** — Scott's Abstract of the Eyrbyggia 
Saga,Illastrationsof Northern Antiquities (4to, Edinburgh, 1814), 
p. 483. . 


interrupting him. He afterwards reproved the too 
hasty zeal of his associate, thongh with little effect, as 
he next year killed another of his opponents in Norway, 
whither he had, along with the prelate, heen compelled 
to retire hy their machinations. This unchristian con- 
duct dissolved the Mendship hetween him and his spiri- 
tual father, who, returning to his own land, concluded 
his life in works of charity and devotion ; whilst Thor- 
wald, after many wanderings, entered the service of the 
Emperor Basilius at Constantinople, and at last died in 
a monastery he had erected. 

The next attempts to christianize the Icelanders were 
made hy Olaf Tryggvason, who endeavoured to convert 
not only his own suhjects, hut also those colonists con- 
nected with them hy language and descent. His first 
agent was Stefner, a native of that island, who had heen 
his companion in his former wanderings, and who, on 
sailing thither, found his ohject thwarted hy a law passed 
in the Althing against all who should oppose the popular 
deities. Notwithstanding this ohstacle, he hegan to de- 
molish hy violence the temples and images in some of 
the provinces ; and heing tried for his imprudent con- 
duct, was banished to Norway. The lightness of the 
punishment proves the increasing influence of the Chris- 
tian party, which was more plainly seen on the arrival 
of his successor Thanghrand. This missionary, it is said,, 
was preceded hy many strange prodigies, which, in ac- 
cordance with the genius of the age, foretold the momen- 
tous change that was to ensue ; and hence on landing 
he was very ill received hy the heathen, who again had 
recourse to magic and poetry to oppose his progress. 
Though a priest, Thanghrand did not hesitate to take 
vengeance on the most satirical of the poets, and the 
conjuror also fell a victim to the resentment of one of 
his companions ; but his violent temper engaged him in 
new broils, till he at last returned to Norway, accom- 
panied by the most influential men of both parties. 
Here he complained to Olaf of the injuries he had sus- 
tained from the heathen, and the king, glad of a pretence 


to promote his wishes, threatened to put those of them 
who were present to death, unless they would consent to 
be baptized. To this alternative they were glad to sub- 
mit, and four of the noblest and best connected being re- 
tained as hostages, the others were dismissed. 

Early next spring (a. d. 1000), the Christians returned 
to Iceland, where they arrived immediately before the 
meeting of the Althing. The people were still so ad- 
verse to their cause, that they were compelled to pro- 
ceed thither on foot ; and on approaching Thingvalla, 
they learned that their enemies had surrounded the 
assembly with armed men, to prevent them from 
attending. Upon this the leaders, Gissur and Hialti, 
secretly assembling their friends and dependents, pro- 
ceeded with them, drawn up in order of battle, to the 
court. Here they found the pagans ready to receive 
them, and every thing seemed to threaten a decision 
of the controversy by the sword ; but the heathen, 
though warlike and superior in numbers, hesitated to 
attack the determined band of their opponents, who, 
entering the valley, were gladly received into the tents 
of their Mends. Next morning, mass having been per- 
formed on the Oxeraa by Thormod, a priest who 
had accompanied them from Norway, they advanced 
into the centre of the valley in slow procession, headed 
by two large crosses, which they set up in a fissure of the 
I^bieiget, or rock sacred to the laws. The court hav- 
ing assembled, Gissur and Hialti addressing the people, 
esdiorted them to turn &om their vain idols to the 
Supreme Ruler of the universe. This discourse naturally 
excited an extraordinary tumult in the assembly, each 
party proposing resolutions in fSsivour of their own re- 
ligion, and mutually renouncing all intercourse with 
their opponents. In this state of affairs, a messenger 
rushed into the midst of the combatants, crying out 
that fire had burst from the bowels of the earth, and 
was consuming all before it ; upon which one of the idol- 
aters started up, exclaiming that this was a manifesta- 
tion of the wrath of the offended deities against the 


impious despisers of their power. This speech wa^ 
about to produce a great effect on the assembly, when 
Snorro, till then an adherent of the heathen, seeing in 
the blasted cliffs and yawning valleys around a refuta* 
tion of the argument, cried out, "With whom then 
were your gods angry when the rocks on which we 
now stand were a glowing torrent V* His words, for all 
the people knew that the surrounding lava had flowed 
before the island was inhabited, changed the temper of 
the multitude, and the heathen, disheartened by the 
defection of one of their most powerfiil supporters, were 
glad to dissolve the court. 

Neither party was idle during the remainder of that 
day and the following night. Halli of Sida having de- 
clined the dangerous honour, the Christians, for sixty 
ounces of silver, induced Thorgeir of Liosa Yatn, at that 
time chief magistrate of the island and a strong sup- 
porter of the pagans, to propose resolutions favourable 
to their cause. Having received the substance of these 
from Gissur and Hialti, he retired to his tent, where, 
shutting himself up, he pretended to be awaiting some 
oracle or revelation. The heathen, in the mean time, 
consulted on the best mode of repelling their adversaries, 
and resolved, by an extraordinary sacrifice, to propitiate 
their deities, to whose anger they ascribed their misfor- 
tunes. They therefore vowed, provided they obtained 
the victory, to immolate to these cruel gods two of the 
most illustrious citizens of each quarter of the island. 
This barbarous intention having been communicated to 
the believers, Hialti, that they might not be outdone 
in zeal, proposed that an equal number should con- 
secrate themselves to the true God, not by a violent 
death, but by holy, pious lives, devoted to the conversion 
of their countrymen, which was immediately agreed to. 

When the court met on the following day, Thorgeir 
rising up, addressed the people in an ambiguous and con- 
ciliatory strain. He pointed out the danger of dissen- 
sion and internal war in a country like theirs, and the 
necessity of concord and agreement in religious matters* 


Both parties, for different reasons, applauded his speech, 
and promising to ahide hy his decision, requested him to 
promulgate what decrees seemed hest fitted to promote 
this end. Thoigeir then hrought forward the laws he 
had received from Gissur, which provided, that all the 
inhabitants of Iceland should become Christians, and 
receive baptism ; that the heathen temples and idols 
should be abolished and destroyed ; and, lastly, that all 
open idolatrous worship should be punished with a fine. 
To conciliate the other party, he permitted them, in 
conformity with the old customs, to expose their chil- 
dren, to eat horse-flesh, and to worship their former gods 
in private ; and stipulated, at the same time, that all the 
other ancient laws not inconsistent with Christianity 
were to continue. To these conditions both parties, 
bound by their agreement, were compelled to assent, and 
the whole nation would have been baptized at once, had 
not the inhabitants of the northern and eastern quarters 
refused to be immersed in cold water. These recusants, 
however, were subsequently admitted into the church at 
the thermal springs of Laugardal. Idolatry did not long 
survive its public rejection, and the concessions to it made 
in the laws just mentioned, soon fell into disuse, and 
were unanimously repealed.* 

This sudden conversion of a whole people had im- 
doubtedly been prepared by the improved knowledge of 
the Icelanders, as well as by their increasing disbelief 
in the old deities. This scepticism is shown in the re- 
peated treachery of their supporters, noticed in the pre- 
ceding narrative, and some singular illustrations of it 

• Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. ii. pp. 378^1, 397, 417-435. Ar» 
Frodes Sehed». The power of exposing their children was in. 
trusted to parents both by the Greek and Roman laws, in the 
most civilized periods of these nations. It was seldom practised 
in the north, and chiefly by the poorest of the people, a rich man 
meaning mneh obloqay for doing so. It never happened if the 
iather ud taken the child in his arms or sprinkled it with water, 
which was a heathen custom. MUller, Island. Hist. p. 146. The 
other custom of eating horse-flesh was prohibited in Germany by 
Pope Gregory III. in 731, and by a council in England in 787, 
which also forbids cutting o£f their ears or tails. 


occur in the histories of the early chieftains. Ingolfs 
grandson, Thorkell, lagmann of the island at the time of 
the first missionary, and universally respected for his vir- 
tue and integrity, when he was seized with a &tal disease, 
and felt the hand of death upon him, ordered his friends 
to carry him into the open air, where, commending his 
soul to that God who formed the sun, he expired. With 
more marked distrust in the ancient faith, Rolf, the son of 
Helgo, when his father consulted the oracle where he 
should place his residence, asked him if Thor had com- 
manded them to winter in the Dumhshaf or icy ocean, 
whether he would have oheyed.* The minds of the 
people were thus prepared for the reception of a purer 
and more rational faith, and many seem to have adhered 
to the old worship, rather for the indulgences it offered 
to their sensual inclinations, than from any convictions 
of its truth. Hence Christianity needed only toleration 
to obtain an easy victory, and idolatry, no longer £bh 
voured by the state, expired without a struggle. With 
the new religion, a new period in the social develop- 
ment of Iceland also commences, during which it at- 
tained its highest pitch of intellectual acquirements and 
renown. With the worship of Thor and Odin, many 
strange superstitions,many singular customs and opinions 
passed away, or left but a fidnt shadow on the minds of the 
vulgar. Before concluding this chapter, we shall there- 
fore collect a few of the more remarkable features of 
society during that early period. 

The religion of the ancient Icelanders was the same 
with that which prevailed throughout all the nations of 
Scandinavian descent. The fundamental ideas of the 
whole system were the existence and moral character of 
one supreme God, the Allfader; the immortality of 
the soul ; and a future state of retribution, according to 
the eternal laws of morality. But this belief was too 
simple and sublime to content such rude minds, and on 
it was erected a cumbrous and complicated system of 

* Landnamabok, pp. IP, 229. 


Lology. This seems to have originated^ not so much 
a deifying of the powers of nature, as from a desire 
plain that contest of good and evil, of virtue and 
ereiy where apparent in the physical and moral 
irse. Unable to impute evil to the all-good, all- 
irful Being, or to place a rival near the Almighty's 
le, they conjured up an inferior order of tutelary 
38^ to whom they ascribed the origin of this mingled 
>,— gods bom with the earth only to perish in its 
L These partook more of human weakness, and 
Bullied with a larger share of the passions and vices 
leir votaries, than they dared to ascribe to the All- 
T, They could be thwarted in their purpose, dis- 
inted in their hopes, and their struggle with the 
)rs of darkness, the cause of all present evil, was to 
in their final destruction. Did we not know that 
system existed among the Scandinavians before the 
ling of Iceland, and in all probability was brought 
them from the Asiatic cradle of Odin and his heroes, 
night be apt to trace much of it to the peculiar phe- 
sna of that island. The awful spectacle of the vol- 
i eruption, when the quivering earth threatens to 
t asunder and be dissolved, whilst the lightnings flash- 
Tom the lurid clouds, and the incessant roll of the 
ider, betoken the sympathy of the firmament with 
ower world, appears to have furnished those sublime 
riptions of the last &ted battle of the gods with 
Cs giant brood. Nowhere is the contest of the de- 
ring and renovating powers of nature more terribly 
layed, and nowhere is some theory to account for 
ore likely to be required or produced, 
welve appears to have been a favourite number with 
lorthem nations. In their courts of justice there were 
ve judges, whose places are still marked by upright 
i-grown stones, and in heaven we find the same 
tic number of superior gods and goddesses, each of 
m had his own attributes, offices, and powers, en- 
ig him to the fear or reverence of his votaries. First 
dhi, at once mortal and immortal, blessing and de- 



stroying, the creator and pn'server of the universe, yet 
the terrible, the god of battles, the father of carnage. It 
seems doubtful whether this deity was merely the leader 
of the Msliy exalted to a place in heaven by his gratefiil 
followers, or whether, as his varied attributes might 
seem to imply, he first assumed the name, and then 
usurped the honours, of a more ancient god.* Next to 
him in rank and authority, though much superior in the 
esteem of those rude warriors, is his son Thor, the god 
of strength and thunder. To him prayers and sacrifices 
ascended in richest profusion ; to him they especially 
looked for help in the hour of danger ; and innumerable 
names of towns, rivers, mountains, and warriors, still 
attest the favour he enjoyed.t Odin is also the parent 
of Niordr, ruler of the sea, who, with his son Freyr, the 
god of wind and rain, who guides the sun in his path, 
accompany him in the ancient oath. With these came 
a crowd of other deities ; Bragi, like the Grecian ApoUo, 
inspiring his worshippers with poetry, eloquence, and 
heavenly wisdom ; Frigga, Odin's wife, whose offices 
correspond to those of Juno ; and Freya, the goddess of 
love, and daughter of Niordr. But Balder, the most 
beautiful and virtuous of Odin's sons, is the subject of 
the most poetical of these fables. On his &te, that of the 
deities and the world they have formed depends, and 
his death renders their dissolution inevitable. This 
melancholy catastrophe sheds a gloom over the whole 
spirit of the northern mythology, and checks even the 

* It is more than probable that Odin or Wodin is the same deity as 
theBudhaorBoodh of the Indians, though the attributes of the latter, 
who would not kill a fly, are very unlike the stem god of the north. 
A comparison of the mythology of the north with that of the eastern 
nations, and the opinions of those Manichean sects who disturbed 
the peace of the early Christian church, is well worth the trouble to 
those who are curious in such matters ; see Prichard's Egyptian 
Mythology, and Beausobre, Hist. Manich. 

*t* Probably a third or fourth of all the persons mentioned in the 
Landnamabok have some reference to this deity in their names. 
His worship, it is thought, was established in the north previoos to 
the arrival of Odin, and he continued the favourite deity both in 
Norway and Iceland. 


riotous joys of the celestial banquet-hall. In dark myste- 
rious strains the skald sings the destiny of Odin, and of 
those departed heroes whom he has associated in his joys 
and dangers in the spacious abodes of Valhalla. Nor is the 
hated thought dispelled by the remote image of a succeed- 
ingage of brighter auspice, when the Allfader, that mighty 
one whom they dare not name, shall gather from the 
flaming world the wise and virtuous of the earth, and 
call them to dwell with him in fields of joy and bliss. 

It is probable that an allegorical interpretation of 
these mythic histories prevailed among the more highly 
gifted individuals ; but the great mass of the people 
must ever have received them in a literal sense. Their 
evil effects in encouraging the violent manners and san- 
guinary habits of the age, were little if at all counteracted 
by the associated belief in the immortality of the soul 
and a state of future retribution. These salutary truths 
were so overlaid with fictions, that they were completely 
obscured, or perverted to an evil purpose, and thus depriv- 
ed of their beneficial influence on society. The religious 
principles of the human mind were turned away from 
their proper object, and wasted on hurtful superstitions. 
The ignorant saw the working of some superior power 
in the most common phenomena of nature, and animated 
every object with an invisible agent. Hence the nume- 
rous methods for predicting the future, and the various 
forms of worshipping the mountains, woods, and streams.* 

But these opinions did not remain a mere inactive 
superstition, without manifesting themselves in bloody 
rites, opposed to all the principles of humanity. Huge 
temples rose to the honour of the deities, of which two 
are said to have been 120 feet long and 60 broad,* in 
addition to which there was a small chapel, or shrine, in 
which were placed the images and altar ; the latter being 
covered on the top with iron, to resist the fire that was 
constantly kept burning. Here also were preserved the 

• Landnamabot, pp. 66, 68, 100, 169, 341. Torf. Hist. Nor. 
torn. ii. p. 149. 


sacred ring, and a brazen caldron or vessel, to receivd 
the blood of the victuns, which was then sprinkled on 
the devotees. The sacrifices were in general bulls or 
white horses ; but in cases of greater moment nobler 
offerings were employed to appease the offended gods. 
Before the shrine of the temple at Kialames, one of those 
mentioned above, there was a deep pit or well, the Blot- 
kellda, in which the human victims were drowned. At 
Thorsnesthing, in Western Iceland, the Blotstein, or 
stone of sacrifice, still remains, and, according to popular 
tradition, the stain of blood can never be effaced. It is 
of an oval form, somewhat sharp above, and over this the 
miserable victims had their backs broken before they 
were slain. Similar stones are found in many other parts 
of the land, particularly in the northern quarter.* 

Besides the public and private worship of the gods, 
according to the established rites of tiie country, there 
were many magic arts, practised only by a few, and re- 
garded with suspicion, or expressly forbidden in the 
laws. Of these the Disa-Blot, or worship of the Disen 
or goddesses who preside over the fates of men, and 
the Alfa-Blot, or that of the spirits of the land and 
"water, who give success in housekeeping, were the more 
common and respectable. The oldest and most power- 
ful rites were, however, the Seidur, in which, by means 
of charms muttered over the fire, or verses composed in 
a peculiar manner, peraons either present or absent were 
bewitched, deprived of reason. Or* rendered imfortunate 
during their whole lives. This was considered as degrading 
its professors, and declared by Odin himself as unfit for 
gods or men, and therefore only practised by the females 
of both races. So much was it detested by the greater 
part of the community, that Harold Haarfager burnt his 
own son for this offence, together with the whole Seidur 
society to which he belonged. It was forbidden in the 
old Icelandic laws, and those convicted were tied np in a 

* Crymogea, p. 61-65. Landnama, p. 94. 01afsen*s Reise, 
th. i. p. 194; th. ii. p. 64. 


sack, stoned to death, burnt, and their ashes cast into tho 
sea. The reason assigned for this mode of punishment 
was that their spectres might not disturb the living ; 
for Odin had afBrmed that he could call these forth from 
the tomb. The runes, originally nothing more than a 
species of writing, were supposed by these rude nations 
to contain something supernatural, some secret charm 
of great power. These characters are said to have been 
introduced by Odin, who taught that by them he could 
heal diseases, quench fire, appease storms, arrest an arrow 
in its course, or awake the spirits of the dead ; whilst 
other forms insured to his followers success in war, re- 
vealed secrets, or procured them the love of their 
mistresses. Similar spells were in frequent use, engraven 
on the prow of their ships, the handle of their swords, 
or worn like an amulet on the body. 

Such are a few of these curious superstitions and cere- 
monies, of which not the least singular part is the uni- 
versal belief they received. We now feel it difficult 
to conceive how the strongest minds could have been so 
convinced of their truth as to live in constant terror of 
their influence, &r less how a father could, on such a 
ground, be induced to destroy his child. But the whole 
of these ancient histories are full of them, and they 
appear in some measure like the drapery in which every 
incident must be attired. They in fact form one of the 
most interesting chapters in the annals of the human race, 
and merit more attention than is usually bestowed on 
them« This short notice cannot be better concluded than 
with the following remark of Amgrim Jonas : — " These 
things have been related not in vain, or to disgrace my 
nation ; but that we, the descendants of these men, may 
be excited to consider seriously how much we owe to 
the divine goodness which has freed us from this more 
tiian Cimmerian darkness, illuminating our minds with 
a ray of diviner light."* 

Connected with these superstitions were the trials by 

* Crymogea, p. 65. Olafsen's Heise, th. 1. p. 248-250. 


ordeal or single combat, modes of appealing to the deity 
practised in almost all rude and credulous nations, and 
not unknown in the mythology of the Greeks.* The 
most remarkable of the former was employed when 
any person accused of some secret crime wished to ex- 
culpate himself by oath, or to establish his veracity 
when asserting any thing of great importance on his sole 
authority. An oblong piece of turf was then cut from 
the ground and set up like an arch, under which he had 
to walk ; if the turf did not break, he was accoimted 
innocent, or his testimony worthy of being believed. 
Under a similar arch, supported, however, by their 
spears, covenants were often entered into, the parties 
mingling blood drawn from their hands ; and this was 
more particularly the case in those confederations for 
mutual defence or revenge so common in these disturbed 
periods. Duels were also very frequent, after the country 
was fully peopled ; for at first they acted on the advice 
of Erik of Gudala on such an occasion, ** that it became 
not men to fight with each other whilst there were so few 
of them in the land." These contests were increased by 
the singular custom which permitted any one to dis- 
possess his neighbour of his farm, unless the latter chose to 
defend it in single combat. The antagonists were usually 
confined within a certain space, from which they were 
not permitted to recede, and whoever first drew blood was 
accounted the conqueror, and became heir to all the effects 
of the vanquished. His friends, nevertheless, had a right 
to appeal from this decision, unless the victor slew, with 
one blow, a bull produced on the spot. In this manner 
Egill Scallagrim obtained great possessions; but the 
custom was abolished in the beginning of the eleventh 
century. There was a still more curious mode of con- 

* In the Antigone of Sophocles (v. 270) we have the foUowiog 
allusion to this custom : 

** Prepared we stood to grasp the glowing iron. 
To wsdk through fire, to swear by all the gods." 


test, in which the combatants, being enclosed in a large 
vessel, shut above, were only armed with short sticks. 
In a duel of this kind Thorgisell Orabein is said to have 
slain Randid, a celebrated Scottish warrior, in Caith- 

Though many of the emigrants had been celebrated 
before leaving Norway as vikingr or pirates, yet similar 
pursoits seem never to have prevailed in Iceland. Its 
distance firom those coasts which were chiefly exposed 
to plunderers, and the want of materials for building 
the long ships used in war, were the principal causes 
of this abstinence. The Icelandic forests consisted of 
short-stemmed trees, almost completely useless for ship- 
building ; so that it is mentioned as a rare occurrence in 
the Landnamabok, that Avang occupied land where 
trees grew of which he formed a vessel.t The driftwood 
from Asia and America was seldom sufficiently abundant 
to supply this deficiency, and even merchant ships 
were bought in other lands. Hence, those who might 
desire to undertake piratical expeditions had to proceed to 
Norway, where alone ships and men were to be found. 
Besides, such exploits had now fallen into disrepute, and 
even the name of viking began to be used as a reproach. 
Of those who still frequented the sea, the peaceable were 
converted into traders, whilst the warlike and adven- 
turous^ like the knights of chivalry on land, ranged the 
ocean, seeking for pirates to destroy, or for the weak whom 
they might protect. The Icelandic people, accordingly, 
even at this period, were by no means that band of rude, 
unpolished freebooters which some have chosen to re- 
present them. On the contrary, for many centuries before 
their emigration, they had formed a connected society, the 

* Am. Jon. Crym. pp. 100, 149. Landnama. pp. 70, 96, 211, 
3 1 4, 37 1 . In the nrst period of the colonization we only read of the 
daels of Oeirmund witn Kiallak, and some time after of that of 
Thorttein Thonkabitr with the relations of the latter. Land. pp. 
94, 127. Eyrbyggia, p. 22. 

+ Land. p. 29. The same is related of Hialte Skeggeson in the 
Kristni Saga, p. 68. 


customs and manners of which they carried with them to 
their new country. As we have already seen, their judi- 
cial forms were sufficiently determined, if not hy written 
laws, yet hy old traditionary custom ; and the whole pro- 
cess depended on many formalities, the omission of one of 
which, or even of a single word, was enough to vitiate anj 
accusation. This close adherence to ancient hahits, still 
a peculiar feature in the Icelandic mind, extended even 
to private life, and the manner of receiving friends, of 
conducting nuptial and other entertainments, and even 
of courtship, were fixed hy estahlished usage. Along 
with a love of ornament, some taste for the fine urts 
had developed itself, not merely in regard to their anne, 
hut in their dress and houses. All were inspired vith 
the sentiment of honour; and a desire to excel in 
poetry, history, and eloquence was universally dif- 
fused. To this, in their original country, was added a 
knowledge of agriculture, shlp-huilding, and commerce, 
none of which, for physical reasons, long survived their 

One unfavourahle point in the constitution during thii 
period was the prevalence of domestic slavery. But the 
unfortunate heings, often prisoners of war, who had 
heen reduced to this state, were not unprotected hy the 
law ; their lives heing valued at twenty ounces of silver, 
while that of a freeman was estimated at a hundred, or 
if a man of family, at three times that sum. 

The condition of the weaker sex has always heen 
accounted one of the surest signs of the state of ciri- 
lisation and morality among a people. The respect shown 
them in the Scandinavian nations isprohahly unexampled 
in any country unenlightened hy the true religion. 
Polygamy, though not prohibited, was far from being 
common. Fathers, or other near relations, could give 
the young women in marriage ; but they were oftener 
left at their own disposal. Besides their dowry they 
received a present from their husbands, which remained 
their own property, and was carried with them in case 
6f a divorce ; and this separation took place whenever 


the wife expressed her wish in a prescribed manner before 
witnesses. Harsh words, or any appearance of abuse, 
such as a slight blow given half in jest, was an excuse 
for this determination ; and it is said that, by usmg their 
priyilege, they in most cases obtained complete authority 
over their spouses. Wives and daughters frequently ac- 
companied their husbands or fathers to the Althing and 
other popular assemblies, and were always present on fes- 
tive occasions, where they generally liad their own seats 
or rooms, though sometimes they sat mingled with the 
other guests. With the exception of some supposed 
witches^ we never hear of women being injured, even 
when complaining most loudly against those who had 
slain their relations, and endeavouring to procure re- 
venge for their death. The heroes delighted in their 
praise, whilst the skalds sung their fame, and the hon- 
ourable titles of the female sex compose a considerable 
portion of the poetical terminology.* 

In other points the Icelanders differed little from 
their Norwegian brethren, or even from their descen- 
dants of the present day. Thus, their houses were 
composed of wood and turf, or of stones cemented with 
clay, those of the wealthier being lined with deals, on 
which were frequently carved the warlike achievements 
of their ancestors. These dwellings were warmed by 
fires of wood, surturbrand or peat, — the last, it is said, 
being originally introduced by Einar, an Orcadian jarl, 
in the time of Harold Haarfager. The fire was enclosed 
in stones, on which occasionally water was thrown, the 
steam difiusing the heat through the house. These build- 
ings were seldom of great dimensions, though some are 
described as being 120 feet long by 60 broad. Their 
food was principally fish and the produce of their herds ; 
their drink whey, or beer imported from abroad. They 
often carried their hospitality to great excess, spending 
their whole fortune on a single entertainment. At their 

* MuUer, Island. Histor. pp. 142, 148, 149. 


father^s fimeral, the sons of Hialte feasted 1200 persons 
during fourteen days, and Olaf Paa 900 for an equal time. 
Their employments were nearly the same with those 
of the present inhabitants, unless that they sometimes 
attempted to raise a little com, which is now almost un- 

* Crjmogea, p. 49-54. Landnama. p. 127. Some other details 
on the Scandinavian Mythology, and the manners of the allied 
nations on the European continent, will be found in a former 
volume of the Cabinet Library (Scandinavia, vol. i. p. 84). In 
Pigott*s Manual of Scandinavian Mythology the reader will find 
the subject further illustrated by some interesting translations kom 
Oehlenschlager's poem on the Gods of the North. Legis' Alkuna 
is also an important work, as comparing it with that of the Slavic 



Independent and Literary Age of Iceland. 

Inflaence of Christianity — Attempts to subjturate the Island— Olaf 
— Harald Hardrade — Appointment of Bishops — Tithes— Mar- 
riage of the Clergy — Chief Magistrates— Defects of the Const!- 
tation — Fends of the Chiefs — Wars of the Sturlunga — Snorro 
Sturleson — His Connexion with Norway — Contests with other 

Leaders — Assassination— Character— Events after his Death 

Burning of Flugumyra — Subjugation of the Island — Ancient 
LiTERATDRB — Character of the Colonists— Traditions — Ancient 

Skalds — Influence of the Climate— Of Public Assemblies 

Political Character of Sagas — Refinement of Language — How 
preserved before Writing introduced — Runes — Subjects treated 
of — Manner of collecting Information — Number of Songs- 
Mythic Sagas — Historic — Heimskringla — Are Frode— Sturlungra 
Saga — Landnamabok — Poetry — Fictitious Sagas — Skalds — > 
Language of Poetry — Resemblance to the Anglo -Saxon. 

The changes produced hy the conversion of the nation 
to Christianity were chiefly of that peaceable kind 
which leave no record on the page of history. Its civi- 
lizing influence gradually ameliorated the rude manners 
of the people, and expelled those superstitious rites 
and barbarous customs by which they were formerly 
disgraced. Humanity was no longer accounted a stain 
on the character of a chief, as happened to Olver Bar- 
nakarl, that is, ** the children's old man ;" thus named 
by his heathen contemporaries, because in his piratical 
expeditions he would not join in their cruel sport of 
tossing the captive in&nts into the air and catching 
them on their spear points. The use of single combat, 
which placed the weak entirely at the mercy of the 


strong, was unanimously repealed in 1006 or 1011 by 
the Althing. The liberty of eating horse-flesh, a relic 
of their Asiatic origin, and intimately associated with 
the religion of Odin, together with the right of parents 
to expose their children, both permitted on their first 
conversion, probably through fear of &mine, did not 
long survive. About ten years after this, Olaf intro- 
duced the canon law or Kristinrett into his own domi- 
nions, and, having learned that various heathen prac- 
tices stiU existed in Iceland, he resolved to use his in- 
fluence in abolishing them. For this purpose he wrote 
to Skaptar, at that time lagmann of ^e island, and to 
others of the principal chiefs, on whom his representa- 
tions had the desired effect.* 

His success iu these matters regarding religion seems 
to have encouraged St Olaf to engage in a more arduous 
though less honourable undertaking. Descent and lan- 
guage had always imited the Icelanders to Norway, and 
given its rulers a considerable sway in the national 
council. Many of the chiefs, indeed, possessed property 
in both countries, and a still greater number of them had 
visited during their travels the court of the king, where 
they were very kindly entertained. As Iceland furnished 
a secure retreat to many of their rebellious subjects, the 
Norwegian monarchs seem to have regarded it with a 
jealous eye, and it was probably some deeper motive 
than the sarcajsm of the poets that had induced Harald 
Blaatand at a former period to threaten to subdue it. 
This design was continued by Olaf, who, after the canon 
law which he had recommended was received, sent them 
as a present materials for erecting a church, together with 
a large bell which long remained in the place of public 
meeting. At the same time he invited several of the 
leaders to visit him, on whom he conferred titles of 
honour, whilst others were gained to his interest by 
secret gifts. When he had thus, as he thought, secured 

* Landnaroabok, p. 363. Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. iii. p. 63. 
Crymogea, lib. i. p. 101. 


a sufficient party in the island, he sent Tliorarin, who had 
been much in his service, thither in the spring of 1024, 
to persuade the islanders to acknowledge his supremacy. 
His envoy landed on the Westmanna Islands, and pro- 
ceeding to the Althing, which was then met, saluted 
the people from the king, who, he said, offered himself 
to them for a ruler, promising at the same time his 
friendship and protection. The assembly, though taken 
by surprise, returned a respectful answer to the royal 
message, in which, however, they made no allusion to 
his offer. Thorarin, disappointed in this quarter, next ad- 
dressed himself to the inhabitants of the northern dis- 
trict, whose friendship, he said, the king was particularly 
anxious to procure, and concluded by requesting them 
to grant hhn the small rock or island of Grimsoe. 
When the assembly was dismissed the people of the 
north collected, and Gudmund of Modruvalla, to whom 
his majesty had sent a flattering message, advised them 
to grant his request. But his brother Einar, taking 
a different and wiser view of the matter, showed that 
this island would only prove a post whence the Nor- 
wegian ships might harass their coasts, and the royal 
emissaries spread bribes and sedition over the whole 
country till it should be compelled to submit to his 
authority. This reasoning prevailed ; when Thorarin, 
as a last resource, invited several of the chiefs to visit 
his master; but their suspicious being now awakened, 
this honour was declined, and it was only promised that 
a suitable deputation should wait upon him next year. 

Ola^ though displeased that the Icelanders should 
resist his authority, now acknowledged both in the 
Faroe Islands and Greenland, dissembled for some time. 
Next season, the sons of some of the principal men being 
sent to him, he received them kindly, and gave them 
lodgings in the palace. When, however, they wished 
to return home, he told them that only one of their 
number, Greller, would be permitted, and that the others 
must remain as hostages until their friends should com- 
ply with his wishes. The youth was accordingly sent^ 


and made known to the Althing of 1026 the conditions 
prescribed by the king. These were, that they should 
receive him as their superior, accept the Norwegian laws, 
and pay an annual poll-tax of money equal in value to 
ten ells of cloth, which even at that period seems to have 
been the circulating medium of the island. He added 
both threats and promises ; but the Icelanders, disregard- 
ing his persuasions, chose rather, as they said, to con- 
tinue his friends with independence than to lose their 
liberty and become his slaves. The monarch, when he 
heard the result of his mission, began to treat the young 
nobles whom he had in confinement with a hai^ness 
not very consistent with his affected piety. But his 
unjust designs were soon after brought to a close by the 
victories of Canute the Great, which deprived him of 
his throne and life.* 

It is generally believed that Harold Hardrade, who 
soon after the death of Canute obtained possession of 
the Norwegian throne, made some attempts on the 
independence of the Icelandic republic. But these, 
though conducted with more secrecy, were equally 
unsuccessful with those of his half-brother St Olaf, and 
the internal dissensions that succeeded in the northern 
realms prevented for some time any endeavours of the 
Norwegian kings against the liberties of their weaker 

Christianity had been established in Iceland about 
half a century before any one was appointed bishop. 
The first advanced to that dignity was Isleif, the son of 
Gissur, who had been so instrumental in introducing 
this religion into the island ; and having been sent by 
his father to study at Erfurt in Germany, he was, on 
his return, chosen by his countrymen to fill this office. 
Wishing to procure the sanction of the head of his 
church, he visited Rome in 1066, where he obtained a 
letter from the Pope requesting the Archbishop of Bre- 

• Crymogea, lib. iii, p. 196-199. Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. iii. 
pp. 122-124, 132, 133. 


men to consecrate him. On his journey he is reported 
to have visited the Emperor Henry and his son Conrad, 
whom he highly gratified by the present of a Greenland 
bear; and going home next year, he fixed his resi- 
dence at Skalholt, where he built a cathedral, to which 
he annexed a school. It is a curious circumstance that 
the bishop was married and was succeeded in his office 
by his son, named Gissur, who, having also studied 
abroad, and returning to Iceland in 1081 soon after 
his fjEither's death, was compelled by the people to 
accept the vacant mitre. He was distinguished for his 
gifts both of body and mind ; and hence Harold of Nor- 
way remarked that he was equally well qualified for three 
things, either as a king to rule a nation, as a general to 
command an army, or as a bishop to guide the church. 
His influence at home was so great that in 1097 he 
persuaded the Althing to consent to the payment of 
tithes without one dissentient voice. Like his predecessor 
he also was married, and continued bishop of the whole 
island till 1106, when the see of Holum was founded in 
the northern provinces. The first prelate in the latter 
district was Ion Oegmund, who built a large church, 
and also endowed a school, in which it would appear that 
the Latin language was taught. A story is still preserved 
of the anger of the worthy founder when he accidentally 
discovered one of the scholars en^ged in reading the 
elegant but seducing strains of Ovid.^ 

The Icelandic clergy, as we have seen above, usually 
repaired to some foreign university to complete their edu- 
cation ; and in this they only followed the common custom 
of the country, according to which no man was at all 
esteemed till he had seen the manners of other lands. 
As courtiers, soldiers, or merchants, most of them had 
at some time or other left their native shores, and the 
old northern proverb was long accounted true in Ice- 

* Epistols et Amores Ovidii. Crymogea, lib. i. p. 105-108. 
Scrip. Rer. Dan. torn. iii. pp. 46, 49. 


land, " That the child brought up at home is simple."* 
The pilgrimages to Jerusalem that at this time began 
to prevail in the north, had also a great influence in in- 
creasing the practice now mentioned. But this inter- 
course with foreign nations did not produce conformity 
to them in their customs ; and the ministers of religion 
continued to many like other citizens till the time of 
Thorlak, who succeeded to the see of Skalholt in 1178. 
This prelate, who had studied at Paris, on his return to 
his native land condemned the marriage of the clergy. 
His prohibition, however, had so little effect, that his 
immediate successor, Paul Jonas, who traced his de- 
scent from the Norwegian kings, disobeyed it, and the 
priesthood seem to have maintained this right so long 
as the island preserved its freedom. This is a curious 
proof of the enlightenment and independence of the 
Icelanders even in religion, and of the little attention 
paid by the Vatican court to those distant provinces of 
its spiritual empire.t 

With the exception of some improvements in the laws, 
particularly those introduced in 1094 and 1118 by Beig- 
thor, the chief magistrate, who first reduced them 
to a written form, afterwards known under the name of 
the Gragas code, few events of general interest occur. The 
contests and adventures of individual chiefs, related with 
great minuteness in the sagas, scarcely belong to the 
history of the island, and even the scene of the most in- 
teresting of these occurrences is placed in foreign lands. 
Hence, until we approach the period when the comiexion 
of the private exploits of the leaders with the national 
fortunes impart to them a greater importance, their 
annals contain little more than the names and date of 
election of the principal magistrates. We have already 
given a list of those who held this office before the sup- 

• Heimskr er heimalit barn. The old word heimskr, simpleton 
or fool, seems to be derived from heima, home, in consequence of 
the same idea. 

f Crymogea, lib. i. p. 108-1 10. 



preasion of idolatry, and shall now add those who follow- 
ed them during the independence of the island : — 

lOOS Ounnar. 
1004 Skaptar. 
1088 Sleno. 
1032 Amor. 
1054 GeUer. 
1063 GuDiiar. 
1065 Kolbein. 
1071 OeUer, again. 
1075 Gmmar, again. 

loss Bergthor. 
1097 Markiu, again. 
1090 Ounnar. 
1108 Ulfhedinn. 
1116 Bersthor, again. 
1188 Guomund* 
1135 Rafoer. 
1139 Finno. 
1156 Snorro. 
1171 Styrker. 
1181 Oissur. 

1201 HaUer. 

1215 Bnorro Bturleson. 

1219 Teitr. 

1393 Bnorro, again. 

1232 Btrymer. 

1236 Teitr, again. 

1248 Olaf. 

1251 BturleSieghTatson. 

1253 Olaf, aaain. 

1353 Teitr Einarson. 

1859 KetU, to 1S68.« 

What some might regard as the greatest theoretical 
excellency of the Icelandic republic, became in practice 
its principal defect, and iq a great measure the cause of 
its ultimate destruction. The restraints imposed on 
the personal liberty and individual development of the 
people, were weak and powerless when opposed to the 
fierce ungovernable passions of a rude and warlike race. 
The proceedings of a court of justice seemed a slow and 
dilatory mode of redress to angry chiefs with weapons 
in their hands. Revenge was therefore gratified in spite 
of the laws ; and when the ofiender was powerful, or 
supported by numerous friends, the magistrate was xm- 
able either to exact obedience or to impose punishment. 
This weak point of the constitution did not immediately 
appear on its first formation ; for as the inhabitants of 
the island were then nearly on an equality in wealth 
and power, none had any reason to assume an undue 
superiority over his neighbour. The common hatred 
of Norwegian slavery, the fear of the king's authority, 
with the bonds of mutual relationship, and reverence 
for the law, prevented all contentions dangerous to the 
unity of the state. Quarrels were indeed even then of 
common occurrence, but the numbers of those engaged 
in them were too small to disturb the public peace. The 
interposition of friends, or the command of the magis- 
trate, generally produced some agreement, according to 

* Some difference exists in the lists given in the annals, both in 
regard to names and dates. Compare Crymogea, pp. 81 » 82; 
Langebek's Script. Rer. Dan. tom. iii. p. 138. 


which the offending party consented to pay a fine, or 
was banished for a term of years from the island, — a 
light punishment to men who foimd a home on every 
sea and plunder on every shore. But in the eleventh 
century circumstances began to alter ; the nation with 
their old religion lost also their reverence for the laws 
that were associated with it, whilst they had not received 
the new faith in such a manner as to supply the place of 
the former. The fiery spirits of the nation no longer 
found an outlet in the viking expeditions, which had now 
ceased ; the power of some of the families began to pre- 
ponderate, converting the aristocracy into an oligarchy ; 
and the custom was established of travelling to the Things 
with large companies of armed men. In the beginning 
of this period we read of Gudmund Bike (the mighty 
or powerful) proceeding through his district eyeij 
spring with thirty followers, to administer justice to the 
inhabitants; but even this small number created a fa- 
mine when he remained long in one place, and he was 
at last obliged to content himself with six. Alliances 
of the great families only increased this evil, and in the 
commencement of the twelfth century, we find Halflide 
Marson coming to court attended by 1200 adherents^ 
whilst his opponent, Thorgils Oddeson, appeared with 
700 to support his pretensions. Against such powerful 
chieftains private individuals could no longer contend, 
and the feeble voice of law and justice was too often 
unheard amidst the clash of arms.^ 

When hostile chieftains met in the public assemblies, 
protected and encouraged by such numerous bands of 
armed dependents, it would have been surprising if they 
had not come into collision with each other, and settled 
their disputes at the point of the sword. Such events 
frequently occurred, as, for example, in 1163, when 
Halldor, a son of the powerful Snorro Godi, was slain 

* Kristni Saga, p. 124. The Storlunga Saga gives Halflide only 
700, and Thorgils somewhat fewer. Such were the armies of 
Iceland ! Vid. MuUer, Island. Hut. p. 84. 


in the Althing, and the tribunal of justice converted into 
a field of battle. From that time these intestine feuds 
greatly increased in violence and frequency, penetrating 
to every comer of the land. Even the snows of the 
lonely mountains were stained with the blood of the 
slam ; a conflict having taken place on the Ryda Jokul 
in 11679 A^d ^® annals of the succeeding years men- 
tion many others. About the beginning of the twelfth 
century, however, all the contests in the land are con- 
joined with those of the three sons of Sturle, the 
historian Snorro, Thord, and Sieghvat, the most power- 
ful chiefs of their time. This period has been rightly 
named the Stu^lunga age, and closes the history of the 
Icelandic republic amid scenes of treachery and blood* 
An aooountof it still remains, written by Sturle Thordson, 
one of the combatants, with considerable elegance, great 
care, and remarkable impartiality, though inferior in 
most points to the Heimskringl^ the celebrated work 
of his illustrious uncle. But the spirit of this unnatural 
wai&re, ever present in all the deeds of dark revenge 
and daring cruelty it excited, deprives the story of much 
of its interest. The events also are often quite un- 
connected with each other, arising merely in some 
personal feeling of the leaders; we shall therefore 
chiefly confine ourselves to those relating to the life of 
Shorro, who, if in some degree guilty of his country's 
rain, has in some measure repaid the injury by the lustre 
which his works cast upon her name.* 

As already mentioned, the office of godaror supreme 
magistrate and judge of the provinces, was hereditary 
in certain families, and now ahnost regpEirded as private 
property. By marriage and other means, several of 
these appointments, together with immense wealth, had 
been united in the person of Sturle Thordson, who 
transmitted them to his sons. Had these been agreed 
among themselves, they might easily have reduced the 

* Script. Rer. Dan. torn. iii. pp. 61, 62, &e. Muller, Island. 
Hist p. 85. 


island to Bubjection, and given to it a native sove- 
reign ; but far from accomplishing this, their mntual 
jealousy, ambition, covetousness, and revenge involved 
themselves and their country in one common ruin. 
Snorro, the most distinguished of the three brothers, 
was bom in 1173) in Dale Syssel, but his father dying 
when he was only five years old, he was brought up in 
South Iceland by Jon Loptson, a grandson of the famous 
Ssmund Frode, the author of the Older or Poetic Edda. 
Here the young skald had an opportunity of accumulat- 
ing those treasures of historical and mythic lore which 
his works display, and probably acquired that literary 
taste which led to their composition. At the age of 
twenty-two he married the daughter of Bersa the Rich, 
whose possessions, added to his own, rendered him one 
of the most powerful of his contemporaries, being able 
to raise from his own estates eight or nine hundred men. 
To preserve himself from the attacks of other clans with 
whom he was at enmity, he fortified his favourite resi- 
dence of Reikholt, and constructed the bath which still 
remains a monument of his skill and magnificence. In 
1213 he was chosen lagmann or supreme magistrate of 
the island, and about the same time engaged in those 
foreign connexions which afterwards proved so prejudi- 
cial to his peace and life. 

The Icelanders, though independent, had continued to 
pay a certain deference and respect to the Norwegian 
sovereigns, and as a nation often asked their advice in re- 
gard to public affairs. Private individuals were still more 
closely connected with them, as their court was the 
great field where they might display their talents, and 
their service the surest channel to wealth and fame. 
Many of the Icelandic nobles were thus induced to visit 
those monarchs, who having never laid aside OlaTs 
design of subjugating their island, endeavoured to con- 
ciliate their affections by presents and honorary titles. 
The skalds were always the most welcome guests, and 
it was in this character that Snorro first appeared in 
Norway. He had composed an ode in praise of Hakon 


' GaliOy a powerful and affluent jarl, who sent him in 
return a rich suit of armour, with an invitation to visit 
him. The hard travelled thither in 1218, and was 
received with high favour by Jarl Skule and the young 
king Hakon, but found his first friend dead and his 
widow married to Askel, the lagmann of West Groth- 
land. He visited her there, and remained nearly a 
year studying the sagas and antiquities of the country, 
and collecting materials for the history of the Swedish 
kings inserted in the Heimskringla. Returning to 
Norway, he found Skule preparing an expedition against 
Iceland to avenge the death of some merchants who 
had been assassinated whilst trading there under his 
protection. This design, if it had been carried into 
execution, would probably have united the natives in 
determined hostility to the Norwegians, and destroyed 
all hopes of reducing the country otherwise than by 
force. The king foreseeing this, remonstrated with the 
jarl, and the expedition was given up, though, with the 
same insidious purpose, it was pretended that this for- 
bearance was exercised only at the solicitation of Snorro, 
who promised to procure justice to the injured parties. 
The poet is reported, on this occasion, to have advised 
his host rather to gain the friendship of the Icelandic 
chiefs, especially of his own two brothers, and through 
them to rule the rest of the nation. His majesty, it is 
also said, gave the Icelander the title of his liegeman or 
vassal, and in 1220 he returned home, ostensibly to pro> 
tect the Norwegian traders, but, there is reason to be- 
lieve, with secret instructions to subject the country to 
the royal authority. 

Snorro, the year after his return, sent one of his sons 
to the jarl as a hostage, at the same time informing 
him that nothing had been effected towards reducing 
the country, in regard to which he probably was never 
serious, merely intending by his promises to secure peace 
and conmierce with Norway. His presence, however, 
could not alleviate the dissensions wliich now rent his 
native land, in which, notwithstanding their profession. 


the ministers of religion bore a distinguished part. 
His brother, Sieghyat, had become involved in a quarrel 
with the Bishop of Holum, whose dependents had killed 
one of his sons. Sturle, another of them, incensed at 
his relative's death, attacked the bishop, turned him out 
of his see, and carrying him first to Grimsce, afterwards 
banished him to Norway. The prelate, on arriving there, 
complained to the Archbishop of Beigen, who summoned 
his opponent to answer for his conduct. Sturle went 
thither, was condemned, and sent to Rome for penance 
and absolution, which he obtained after being 1^ naked 
to the dijEPerent churches, and scourged so as to draw 
tears from the Roman ladies. On his return to Norway 
he had a secret interview with Hakon, who pretending 
displeasure at the constant tumults and murders in 
Iceland, asked if it would be difficult to reduce it to 
subjection. He replied that, to a brave man, it would 
not ; whereupon the king requested him to imder- 
take it : to which he consented, on condition, that he 
himself should be made vicegerent, and that art and 
wisdom should be employed, rather than force and 

Hakon had now two agents in Iceland, but these were 
by no means disposed to co-operate with each other, and 
it is even doubtful whether either of them was sincere 
in his promises. Sturle Sieghvatson, on his return in 
1235, found that Ursekia, a son of Snorro, had in his 
absence plundered his provinces and seized on his pro- 
perty. He collected his adherents, proceeded ag^nst 
the &ther, who, unwilling to contend with a relation, 
asked his brother Thord to mediate between them, and 
on this failing, he left Reikholt to his enemy, and retired 
to Bessastadir. Sturle soon after defeated several other 
of his opponents, and having by a pretended reconciliation 
got hold of Ursekia, put out one of his eyes and other- 
wise maimed him. Shortly after, the latter sailed to 
Norway, where in 1237 he was followed by his fEither 
and many powerful chiefs. 

Snorro, on his arrival, attached himself to his old 


friend the jarl, wlio then held his court at Trondheim, 
and was abnost openly aspuing to the throne. The 
Icelandic skald employed his poetic powers to favour his 
patron's amhitioas designs, composing odes in his praise^ 
and vindicating his right to the crown. Intelligence from 
Iceland, where the preceding winter Kolhein and Gissur 
Thorwfddson had defeated the Sturlunga party, and slaui 
Stnrle, his father Sieghvat, and three brothers, created 
in Snorro a wish to return home, but he was forbidden 
by the king, who declared him an outlaw. The jarl, 
however, famished him with the means of evading this 
prohibition, and he sailed for his native land. But the 
enmity of Hakon pursued him thither, secret orders 
being sent to Gissur, who, though Snorro's son-in-law, 
was now one of his most implacable foes and head of a 
party devoted to the ambitious monarch, to seize his 
person and send him prisoner to Norway, on a charge 
of high treason, or, if this could not be effected, to put 
hnn to death. Gissur's passion or interest prompted him 
to adopt the latter alternative, and assembling a sufficient 
force, surprised him in Reikholt on the 22d September 
1241, and deprived him of life.* 

Snorro, who thus perished by the hand of an assassin, 
is acknowledged to have been one of the greatest and 
most learned of the Icelanders. His countrymen love 
to compare him with the most celebrated of the Roman 
orators, to whom both ia character and fortune he bore 
a striking resemblance. Both were called to the highest 
offices in their native land by the voice of their admir- 
ing countrymen, — ^both amidst the cares and distractions 
of political life soothed their labours by literature, and 
won its brightest honours from their less busy contem- 
poraries, — ^both lived at a time when the bulwarks of 
freedom were crumbling into fragments around them, — 
and both, taking an active share ia the imnatural con- 
flict^ fell victims to the success of their enemies. Like 

• Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. iv. pp. 146, 201-203, 211, 306. Script. 
Rer. Dan. torn. iii. p. 82. 


Cicero, too, Snorro was distinguished for his powerful, 
fervid eloquence, and by his rank, wealth, and talents, 
was entitled to the highest places in the state. But his 
character was stained by avarice and ambition, and he 
is accused of having often failed to perform boldly what 
he had prudently contrived. He has been charged with 
promoting the designs of the Norwegian monarch against 
the independence of his native land, but may be excused, 
even supposing him to have countenanced this projecl^ 
when we consider that it was to avert the evils which 
a hostile expedition, probably ending in complete sub- 
jugation, would certainly have produced. His subse* 
quent conduct proves that he had no desire to see the 
object accomplished ; and the disgrace of ruining their 
country finally devolved on his opponents. 

As the literary labours of Snorro will come under 
our notice when treating of those of his contemporaries, 
we shall at present proceed with the history of the poli- 
tical changes in the state. Gissur, after the murder of 
his £Either-in-law, took possession of all his property, and, 
having now the greatest power in the island, banished 
his son Uraekia to Norway. The chief place among the 
Sturlunga party immediately devolved on Thord Kakal, 
who, though he partially avenged the death of his 
friends, had not power either to subdue his enemies or 
to procure an agreement with them. After six years 
of petty warfare we find him and the leaders of the 
opposite faction in Norway, where the papal legate had 
arrived to crown the sovereign. To him both applied 
for his influence relating to the affairs of the island ; 
but Thord was the favourite, and the king and cardinal 
resolved on sending him to his native land to bring it 
under the authority of the mother-country, it being 
imjust, according to the latter, that Iceland alone of aU 
Christian nations should refuse to obey a monarch. The 
reasoning of the prelate prevailed, though the &ct referred 
to was false, for there were many republics even in Italy ; 
and accordingly Thord with Bishop Henr}"^ of Holum 
were sent to procure the submission of the islanders. 


The two confederates did not long continue allied, and 
we find the bishop once more in Norway associated with 
Gissur his former enemy, and endeavouring to persuade 
the king to transfer his authority to his new friend. In 
1253 Henry is again at court charging Gissur with faith- 
lessness, — an accusation probably well founded, as the 
Icelandic chiefs seem to have been constant in nothing 
save the gratifying of their ambition and revenge by 
servility to Hakon and treachery to their country. 
In the autumn of this year an event happened which, 
as showing the spirit in which these feuds were con- 
ducted, deserves to be more fully related. 

Gissur and the chie& of the other party proposed to 
end their disputes by the marriage of his son to the 
daughter of one of their leaders. The affair was arranged 
and the nuptials celebrated at Flugumyra, Gissur's 
residence, with great hospitality and rude magnifi- 
cence. ' He appears to have been sincere in his inten- 
tions, but not so his foes, who wished to lull his suspi- 
cions only that they might strike the blow more surely. 
Several of the guests in retiring warned him in the dark 
and figurative language of the land to beware of the 
coming danger ; but their words were unheeded, and the 
fiunily retired to rest. Three nights after, forty armed 
men surrounded the house, and killing one of the sen- 
tinels at the door, were forcing their way into the inte- 
rior when they were repelled by the master, whom the 
tumult had awakened. Afraid lest the neighbours 
should come to his assistance if they remained long, the 
conspirators set fire to the house, and his wife who, 
trusting to the respect due to her sex, tried to escape, 
was thrown back into the flames. Gissur meanwhile 
had taken refuge in a detached part of the dwelling, 
which from the mode of construction had escaped the 
fire, and heard his enemies consulting about his death. 
In the room there was a large vessel full of sour milk, 
the usual beverage of the country, in which he hid him- 
self, and his enemies after searching the place, and even 
wounding him several times with their spears, departed 


without perceiving him, persuaded that he had perished 
in the ruins of his home. Thirty-fiye persons, includ- 
ing his wife and three sons, fell victims to the fire or 
sword, hut the individual principally aimed at escaped 
to avenge their death. In the following winter he slew 
seven of the leaders, and others of them received the 
reward of their cruelty next summer in the island of 
Grimsoe, whither they had heen followed hy their im- 
placahle foe.* 

Deeds like these were but too well calculated to 
alienate the minds of the people from their rulers, and 
to induce them to look for that security and peace imder 
a foreign prince which were denied them by their own 
institutions. Time with its secret mutations had con- 
verted the Icelandic aristocracy into the worst of oli- 
garchies; and the powerful chiefs, not content with 
governing their own provinces, were stirred up by their 
insatiable ambition to usurp those of their neighbours. 
The authority of the laws was utterly despised, and all 
causes decided by violence and arms, whilst sedition, 
rapine, and slaughter every where prevailed. In the more 
ancient feuds some seasons of the year brought peace, 
and by mutual consent the property and flocks of the 
combatants were spared, but now all this was reversed ; 
summer and winter, night and day, by sea and land, the 
battle was carried on, and the design of the combatants 
being only to injure their opponents, they plundered or 
destroyed whole provinces, and in their deep revenge 
spared neither age nor sex. Whilst the feuds of the 
chieftains thus seemed interminable, their constant 
reference to the King of Norway, and their desire to 
strengthen themselves by his support, taught the people 
where to look for protection, — a feeling heightened by 
the dependence of the clergy on the see of Trondheim. 
Hakon knew well how to employ these incidents to 
favour an event now almost a necessary conBequence of 
the course of things. 

• Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. iv. pp. 270, 271, 322.329. 


Belying upon these circumstances, and more especially 
on the disposition of the people, Hakon could now treat 
for the surrender of the island in an open manner. For 
this purpose he sent Bishop Sigvard and a Norwegian 
nohleman of the same name thither in 1264, and Ivar 
Egilson the following year, who persuaded the inha- 
bitants of the north to pay tribute to him. But they 
did not long continue in this resolution, and Gissur, who 
had returned to Norway, was again in 1259 sent to 
Iceland. But neither did he effect much ; and, accord- 
ingly, finding himself hated by his countrymen, sus- 
pected by the king, and weary of life, he retired to a 
monastery, where he concluded his days. Harald, or 
Hallyard Gulskor, at last succeeded in inducing the 
whole island in 1261 to swear allegiance to the Norwe- 
gian monarch and consent to pay tribute, with the ex- 
ception of the eastern quarter, which also submitted in 
three years. In thus accepting of a sovereign the Ice- 
landers did not resign their freedom, a regular contract 
being entered into between them, securing their ancient 
rights and laws, free commerce with Norway, and 
government by a viceroy ; it being also stipulated that 
on the infringement of any of these conditions they 
should be no longer bound by their oath.* 

The manners and customs of the Icelanders during 
this period varied little from those of the preceding age, 
except in the abolition of some heathen customs too 
much opposed to the spirit of Christianity to survive its 
reception. Though the change thus produced was 
highly beneficial, yet the religion of peace had little 
efiTect in restraining the wild and lawless spirits of the 
northern chiefs ; and the bishops, whose influence might 
have done much, were too deeply involved in the fac- 

* The history of this surrender will be found in Torfseus* History 
of Norway (torn. iv. lib. 4) under the various years of Hakon^i 
rdgn, and a very full account of the transactions following the 
death of Snorro in the fifth book (p. 30&-336), and also in the 
Crymogea, p. 199>208. For the terms of the contraot see Torfaus, 
p. 334, and Crymogea, p. 107. 


tions of the time to amend the nation either by precept 
or example. The most curious feature in the social 
development of this period of independence, is the com- 
position of those poetic and historical works, which even 
yet impart a lustre to the fiEuied glories of the land, and 
from the light which they cast on the history of the 
neighbouring kingdoms, possess a universal interest. 
Why the natives of that remote and barren island should, 
at a time when midnight darkness covered all other 
European lands, turn their attention to literature, and 
produce works of such real excellence, is a question 
worthy of attentive consideration. Though several of 
these were produced prior to the introduction of Chris- 
tianity, yet, as they were not conmiitted to writing, and 
many of the most important not composed till after this 
event, we have hitherto deferred noticing them. 

The first colonists of this island were men of noble 
birth, famed not only for their own deeds, but for those 
of their ancestors. To this much importance was at- 
tached in all the Scandinavian nations, and more particu- 
larly in Iceland, where, as few opportunities of signaliz- 
ing their personal prowess arose, this proof of courage 
and a manly soul was proportionately more valued. In 
Norway the name of the warlike race was known to all 
the inhabitants of the same Ting or province; and the 
green mound where the ashes of the mighty reposed, 
the ancient patrimonial possession (odelshof ), the places 
famous by their deeds, preserved the memory of the 
heroes, and ensured the renown of their descendants. 
But of these only the songs of the skalds could follow 
them to Iceland, for they could not " bid the bones of 
their fathers arise and go with them to a strange land.'* 
But their removal from these more lasting memorials 
only made them cling the more closely to those that re- 
mained, and more anxious for their preservation, whilst 
the distance of the scene, the melancholy attached to 
home, when left for ever, impressed them more deeply 
on their hearts. In the altered circumstances of the 
nation we may find another jeason : men accustomed 


to war, to bloodshed, and to danger, sailing from shore 
to shore in quest of plunder or of glory, now fed their 
flocks in peace, or allotted to their servants their daily 
kbonr. Like persons rescued from a stormy ocean, 
they would oft recall their bygone days, and seek in the 
stiiring vicissitudes of the past a relief from the vacuity 
of the present. Besides, their own acts were intimately 
associated with those of their fathers, whose feuds they 
had inherited, whose death they had avenged, and from 
whose friends they had sought and found support. In 
this way a perfect image of the past would spring up 
and be preserved in the hearts and memories of the Ice- 
landers ; whilst in Norway, recent events obliterated the 
remembrance of the old, and the bloody wars of the 
Birkebeinar almost annihilated the ancient families with 
all their traditions. 

We are not here concerned with the literature of the 
other allied nations ; but it is important to remark that 
many skalds flourished in Harald's court at the time 
when Iceland was colonized, and that Jarl Einar then 
sang in the Orkney Islands. Verses written by these 
authors still remain, and some beautiful poems of Eyvind 
Skaldaspilder, the most fsuned of the northern bards, are 
yet preserved. But Christianity took deeper root in these 
lands, and its more violent contest with the old super- 
stition imbittered the minds of the priests against all 
remnants of the ancient mythology, which was insepa- 
rably interwQven with the skaldic poems. The same 
reasons of hostility did not exist in the new country, 
where the struggle was less virulent and protracted. 
To this £Eivourable circumstance, climate and the mode 
of life of the inhabitants, which left them many leisure 
hours, added their influence. The hay harvest was 
soon collected, the fisheries finished, and the cattle re- 
quired but little care. The feuds occupied only a 
short time, but compelled the leaders to keep a number 
of followers around them ; whilst the social character 
of the people made it the custom for all the inhabitants 
of a fium, however large, to assemble in one room. To 


these private were added many public meetings^ where 
a whole district gathered together either for amusement 
at ball or the hestething, where horses were provoked 
to fight together ; or, for civil business at the different 
inferior courts, and especially at the Althing. In all 
these meetings the relating of sagas became a conmion 
amusement, and the question was frequently asked if 
there were any wise man present who could amuse 
them with new histories. Where this talent is much 
practised, and highly appreciated, it is sure to develop 
itself, and many such sagamen (sagnamadr) are named 
in these narratives. The political character of the insti- 
tutions gave to these relations an importance they would 
not otherwise have acquired, arising from the desire of 
£une excited in the minds of all the nation, to which 
this was a sure path. But the most powerful cause was 
found in the rivalry of the chiefs, whose authority de- 
pended on the number of their adherents, and this again 
on personal character and influence in the courts. No 
one could defend his cause with success against a more 
powerful opponent, and hence, private individuals were 
glad, as in ancient Rome, to become the clients of some 
chieftain. All the grandees therefore were anxious to 
acquire a name which gained them at once glory and an 
increase of power, and this it was the skald's office to 
dispense. In these disputes also, the character of the 
leader, whether he was warlike and enterprising, or well 
liked and had numerous relations, was isi question of 
importance, not merely to those who espoused his side, 
but even to his enemies. Hence the importance of 
these sagas, and at the same time their peculiar character. 
They are all historical, and we may even say in some 
measure political, displaying close observation of the 
conduct, character, personal appearance, and dress of the 
chieftains, — ^things of moment in a land where it was of 
consequence to recognise at a distance one's friends or 

When the first settlers arrived in Iceland, we cannot 
doubt that they brought with them many songs derived 


from their Norwegian ancestors. Probably the most 
ancient of these were the mythic poems concerning Odin 
and the Ais, after which we may place those of the Vol- 
sung and Ginkung, Bnt this character was soon ex- 
changed for the historical ; and the long continuance of 
the heroic age in Norway offered rich materials for the 
skald. He had not, like ^e Homeric poets of Lesser Asia, 
to go back into a former age for a theme worthy of hia 
lyre. Actions were performed every day fitted to in- 
spire his muse, and these he delighted to sing ; but it 
is obyious that this proximity to the period whence his 
subject was taken must hare had a great influence on 
the manner in which it was treated. Fettered by the 
present, the skald seems never to have been moved by 
a law of beauty, deeply yet darkly felt, which led his 
Grecian brethren to transform some historic incident 
into one harmonious whole. Brage, the northern 
muse, was more allied to the lyric than to the epic. 
When some stirring adventure caught the poet's £Etncy, 
his creative spirit unfolded itself in lofty tones; but 
this was only for a moment, when, again entangled in 
the course of events, it was revealed only in individual 
expressions, not in the general plan. But what the 
longer sagas thus lost in poetic spirit and unity, was more 
than compensated by their higher interest and utility as 
authentic records of real events. 

Some may perhaps doubt whether the northern lan- 
guage at that early period was so much refined as to 
be fitted for compositions on such subjects; but that 
it was so may be shown on indubitable grounds, even 
although we should reject the verses ascribed in the sagas 
to their ancient heroes. Many songs of the skalds in 
Handd Haarfagei^s time still survive, the style of which 
difieiB but little from that used in the eleventh cen- 
tury ; the change in manners and ideas during these two 
ages having been very slow and inconsiderable. Be- 
tween this poetry, however, and the oldest prose there 
exists such a difference, not merely in the metrical form 
and artificial arrangement, but also in the choice of 


words, as prores that this fonn of composition was then 
very old in the north. This perfection of language was 
only what was to he expected from the rank assigned to 
eloquence in the free constitutions of Scandinavia, where 
the wise and powerful tongue gained equal honour with< 
the hold and skilful hand. 

These sagas do not go far hack ; those of the colo- 
nists seldom heyond their father or grandfather. Re- 
markahle events of such recent periods were easily 
rememhered, especially when emhalmed in the liviug 
strains of a favourite hard ; and though only preserved 
by memory, the circumstances in which they were 
recited were often sufficient to ensure their transmission 
to future generations. The hero's court, whose own 
exploits, or those of his immediate ancestor, formed the 
subject of the poem, was frequently the place where it 
was sung. At other times, it was on the battle-fieldy 
amidst the assembled warriors, as at Stikklestad (a. d. 
1030), where St Olaf, collecting the skalds into the 
schildburg, yrhere the bravest of his warriors fought 
around the king, said, ^^ Be here and see what is done ; 
trust not to others when you sing our deeds." On this 
event the bards thought fit to compose a memorial-song, 
each improvising a strophe, which was immediate^ 
committed to memory by the men. On the eve of 
the same battle, Thormod Kolbrun, at Olafs request, 
sung the Biarkelied on the death of Rolf Krake, part 
of which still remains. The whole army rejoiced at the 
well-known strain, calling it the whetstone of heroes^ 
and the monarch rewarded the skald with a gold ring.* 

Neither were these verses trusted entirely to memory; 
for even before Christianity had introduced the Roman 
letters, it was the custom to engrave them in Runic 
characters on wooden staves.t Thus Halmund, when 

* Heimskringla Sa^ af Olafi Hinom Helga, kap. 218, 220. 

■f* The nse of this mode of writin? was very ancient in the north, 
and probably brought with the ^sir from their Asiatic home. 
The number of Runic inscriptions (above 1400) scattered through 
Scandinavia and Iceland, refute the theory of their origin from 


mortally woimdedy says to his daughter, ^^ Listen fiaith- 
folly whilst I relate my actions, and engrave this song 
upon a staff** In the same manner, when Egill Scalla- 
grimson, grieyed for his son's death, wishes to commit 
soicide, his daughter, to divert him from this purpose, 
says^ ** I wish, &ther, we had lived till you had com- 
posed a funeral-song on our Bodvar, which I might cut 
in runes.*'* 

In this manner did the taste for such relations spring 
up in the breasts of the Icelandic skalds. Had their 
sagas been confined to the history of their own country, 
however interesting as a curious fact in the progress of 
civilisation, they would probably never have acquired 
their present fame. But the events of their own land 
were too limited to exhaust their powers, and their 
constant intercourse with the surrounding nations in- 
troduced them to a wider field, which they were not 
slow to cultivate. Notwithstanding the remote situation 
of the island, they had many opportunities of acquiring 
the requisite knowledge ; for Norwegian, and probably 
British merchants, visited them every summer, and 
often remained throughout the winter.t But in their 

the Roman letters at a recent date, to which they have less re- 
semblance than to the ancient Greek, Etrurian, and Celtiberian 
alphabets. Tacitus, however, affirms that the Germans, in his 
days, were ignorant of the use of letters, Tac. Ger. cap. 1 9. The 
story in the Sturlunga Saga (3 Thattr, kap. 7) of Ingemund, an 
Icelandio priest, who in 1186 perished on the coast of Greenland 
with six others, leaving an account of his misfortune in runes, 
found with their bodies fourteen years after, shows that they were 
then the most common mode of writing, and the most likely to be 
undorstood. They were chiefly emploved in inscriptions on public 
monuments, tombs, and in letters which consisted of a wooden 
staff {runakefle). They at last fell into bad repute from being 
employed in magic rites, and were discouraged by the clergy. 
Mimer, Island. Hist. p. 130-134. Olafsen's Reise, th. i. pp. 24a, 

* Grettis Saga, cap. 65. Egil Saga, p. 605. Miiller, Island. 
Hist. p. 20. • 

t The imports were meal, wood, linen, fine cloth, and tapestry ; 
the exports, silver, skins, wadmal, and other coarse clotns, 
with dried fish. The merchant usually resided with the chief of 
the district, and, in return for his winter's lodgings, gave him a 


travels to foreign lands, whether for commerce or as 
soldiers and poets, they had still greater advantages. The 
flkalds, like the trouhadours, were nohles and warriors, 
and were received by the kings, to whom they were 
often related, not like wandering minstrels without a 
name or home, hut as friends and councillors. They had 
the seat of honour in the court, were consulted by the 
sovereign on all difficult occasions, and rewarded with 
titles or valuable presents. Most of the 230 skalds who 
distinguished themselves before 1157 were Icelanders; 
the circumstances of that nation being more favourable to 
their peculiar vocation, whilst the princes were also better 
pleased with praise from a foreign bard than from one 
of their own subjects. The hope of fame or profit thus 
led these islanders through every land, from the shores 
of the icy ocean to the Mediterranean, and from Britain 
to Constantinople and the Holy Land. As they never 
failed to return to their native country, much historical 
matter was in this way collected there, which, accord- 
ing to the habits of the people, soon assumed the form 
of a saga.* 

In this manner, an immense number of these produc- 
tions accumulated in Iceland. Though endowed with 
almost incredible powers of memory, the sagamen must 
have sunk under the burden, and many of these woiks 
would have been lost, had not some other means been 
contrived for their preservation. The blind skald Stuf is 
said to have sung on one evening to Harald Hardrade no 
fewer than sixty songs, and to have known four times 
as many longer poems. The length of some of these 
may be conjectured from what is related of Thorstein, 
who recited to the same Harald an account of his expe- 
dition to Sicily, which he had learnt from Halldor Snor- 
roson, one of the king's followers, and which continued 

present of a piece of English tapestry, or other costly goods. 
Muller, Island. Hist. pp. 46, 47, with the authorities from the 
sagas there (]|uoted. 

* There is a very curious treatise on the travels of the Ice- 
landers, by Jon Erichsen, De Peregrinationibus Islandorum. 


thirteen nights.* No sooner, therefore, were tlie Roman 
characters introduced with the Christian religion, than 
they were gladly employed to relieve the mind from this 
mass of traditional lore ; and when the poems were once 
committed to writing, many who would have hesitated 
to burden their memories with them, were glad to 
procure copies. At what time this happened is not 
well ascertained; but as schools were instituted soon 
after the conversion of the island, both at Skalholt and 
Holmn, it was probably about the same period. Even 
in the twelfth century books were composed, and the 
priests at least possessed libraries ; whilst the Stur- 
hmga Saga says, that most of the events that took place 
in Iceland were recorded before the death of Bishop 
Brand in 1201. The compilation of the Landnamabok, 
in whicli are found the names of about 3000 persons 
and 1400 places, proves the early existence of some 
written documents, no power of recollection being able 
to retain such a number of detached particulars. 

We are apt to regard these sagas as confined to the 
history of Iceland ; but this is an incorrect view, as they 
embrace in their wide circle the whole north, its language 
and customs, its annals and religion. One class com- 
prehends the events of Scandinavia before the peopling 
of that island, and, as being the most interesting, they 
have engaged much of the attention of foreign authors. 
These, passing through a longer channel of tradition, are 
less to be depended on than the more recent, and are 
impressed with a deeper mythic character ; though such 
as respect Norway are more complete than those which 
regard Sweden and Denmark. Greater confidence may 
be placed in such as treat of the events which came to 
pass after Iceland was inhabited ; and the religion, man- 
ners, laws, constitution, and language of the north, 
being then almost imiform, we are enabled from them to 
form a true picture of this heathen period. With the 
history of the Icelanders, those of the other northern colo- 

* Torf Hlct. Nor. torn. ill. p. 333. 


nies are closely connected. For example, that of 
Orkney Islands is related in the Orkneyinga Saga, 
lished hy Johnson, of the Faroe Islands in that of 
mnnd Bresteson, and of Greenland in the saga of 
Baude, and others emhodied in Snorro's great y 
Begarding the continental nations, the Heimskring 
the same author has ohscnred the &me and caused 
loss of many documents existing in his time, and 
ployed hy him in its composition. Some others hov 
still remain, which prove hy comparison how &ithfhl 
has performed his task, and with how much trutl 
elegance he has given us the story of three hundred ^ 
In this work we must regard Snorro as more than a 
compiler. He has indeed followed old traditioi 
all who compose the history of the past must do : 
he has presented them as one consistent whole, coi 
ing, adding, and omitting, according to the inform 
acquired in his other researches. His style, simph 
unadorned, often interrupted hy quotations from 
skalds, expresses in a vivid manner those thought 
feelings to which his native tongue could alone 
utterance. To this work we are indehted for our 
knowledge of those Norman chiefs, whose names : 
the kings of Europe tremhle in their palaces, and -% 
descendants now sit on the mightiest of their throi 

* The Heimskringia (that is, the orb of the world, so ; 
from its first words) was originally published in a Danish ti 
tion, by P. Clausen, in 1639. The original Icelandic, i 
Latin translation by Peringskiold, appeared at Stockholm, i 
vols folio, in 1697. But this edition is founded on corrupt 
scripts. A more correct copy is that of Schoening-, in Icel 
Latm, and Danbh, in three folio volumes. There are 
smaller editions of the whole or part. His descendant, ] 
Finn Johnson, wrote the first biographical notice of him ; a 
one, by Finn Magnusen, will be lound in the nineteenth voli 
the Memoirs of the Scandinavian Literary Society (Copen. 
See Depping, Biographie Universelle, torn. xlii. p. 50 
Snorro's other great work, the Edda, is translated in the i 
volume of Mallet's Northern Antiquities, and a very co: 
analysis of it will be found in another part of the Edinburgh 
net Library (Scandinavia, vol. i. p. 85, &c.) 


Older than the writings of Snorro, though of less 
general importance, are those of Are Erode. His short 
treatise on the history of his native land, compiled 
after 1122, contains a comprehensive and well-arranged 
outline of the principal events hefore his time. He was 
the first of the Icelandic authors who assigned fixed dates 
to events, and his narrative far surpasses those of his 
monkish contemporaries on the continent in sound sense 
and patriotic feeling. He composed a larger work, of 
which only a few quotations, principally on genealogical 
and chronological questions, remain. It appears to have 
heen a dry collection of the most remaikahle occurrences 
which took place subsequently to the colonization of 
Iceland, in that kingdom, and in Norway, England, and 
Denmark^and was employed by Snorro in the composition 
of his principal work. Another production, of which we 
know little more than the name, was a history of the 
Norwegian kings &om Harald Haarfeiger to Magnus the 
Good, by Saemund Erode, which is seldomer quoted than 
Are's, and is thought to have been mostly chronological. 
Ssmund is also the reputed author of the Older or Poetic 
Edda, though his title to this, as also to the Odda Annals, 
has been disputed. Other historical works of this period 
are well known, but most of them having assumed the 
form of annals, were either incorporated with later trea- 
tises or have altogether perished. The cause of this pecu- 
liar method may be found in the detached and uncon- 
nected nature of the events of northern history, consist- 
ing merely of individual &cts united only by the slender 
relation of time. It was reserved for Snorro to combine 
the living spirit of the northern Saga with the widely 
connected views of foreign literature, and thus to 
produce a classical work which easily eclipsed all former 

The success of this great author induced many others 
to follow in the same path, the most distinguished of 
whom was Sturle Thordson, his brother^s son. He 
wrote, in 1284, the histoiy of the civil contentions of the 
Island during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries which 


led to its final subjection to the Norwegian kings. 
Though his friends were deeply engaged in the earlier 
part of these transactions, and himself in the more re- 
cent, yet he is generally allowed to have been impartial 
in his account of those melancholy occurrences. His 
work is the most extensive that remains to us of all 
that were composed during this period of Icelandic his- 
tory. In those wars the noblest of her sons perished ; 
and with freedom the spirit that animated their liters 
ture fled for many ages. But this belongs rather to the 
next historical epoch, before entermg on which we must 
notice some of the other writings of this age.* 

Probably the most curious of the works of this period 
which have been preserved is the Landnamabok, or a 
narrative of the origin of the Icelandic nation. In this 
treatise we find an account of the first discovery of the 
island, and a list of the colonists, with their relations 
and descendants. Such a complete genealogical record of 
a whole nation is perhaps nowhere else to be found, and 
is singularly chai^teristic of the people, their &mily 
pride, and love of minute information respecting their 
ancestors. It forms the surest authority for the early 
history of the island, and, amidst many uninteresting 
details, frequently gives us curious glimpses of the state 
of society. From the book itself we learn that it was 
not the work of one author, but of many distinguished 
individuals in succession. The first of these was Are 
Erode, or the wise, a priest, bom in 1068, some of whose 

* An edition of the Sturlunga Sa^ with notes, in four volumes 
quarto, has been published by the Icelandic Literary Society at 
Copenhagen (1817-1820), accompanied with an introduction and 
a biographicid account of Bishop Arne Thorlakson, extending to 
A. B. 1320. The fate of the editors of this work is singularly 
meluicholy, — the author of the notes, Gisle Bryngulfsen, was 
drowned in the prime of life, — of two promising young students who 
assisted him, one, Thorasen Oefiord, experienced the same fate on 
his passage home, and the other, Sigurd Stephensen, died soon 
after in early life. The same society nave published (1821-1830) 
a continuation of this work by Jonn Espolin, entitled Island's 
Arbeekur, or Iceland's Year Books, in nine quarto volumes, con- 
taining the history from 1263 to 1 743. 


other performances we hare already mentioned. He was 
succeeded by Kolskeggr, whose learning also procured 
him the same honourable title, by Str3rmer Frode, Stnrle 
Thordson, and some others of less note. The finishing 
band was put to the whole by Haukr Erlendsen, who 
was seyeral times lagmann of the island, and died in 1334. 
Many manuscripts of this work exist, and several editions 
of it haye been published, though none of them, it is said, 
particularly accurate, — a circumstance the more to be 
regretted as many important facts in northern history 
depend on its testimony. Like most of the other com- 
pilations of the period, it contains frequent quotations 
from the older poems, the interpretation of which has 
exercised the ingenuity of antiquaries.* 

Poetry seems in all nations to have preceded prose 
composition, and often to have been carried to a high 
state of perfection before the latter was even attempted. 
This arises from the pleasure derived from measured 
sounds, and the ease and security the mind attains in 
remembering words arranged according to a fixed law. 
Hence the tales of the skalds and sagamen were fonned 
and recited or sung according to a peculiar measure. 
Though the natural genius of the northern nations and 
their less excitable temperament led them to prefer 
poems founded on historical fiEicts, in which the acquisi- 
tion of knowledge was combined with the charms of 
harmony, yet all were not of this kind. They had ficti- 

* We are bappy to learn that the Society of Northern Anti- 
quaries at Copenhagen, who have done and are doing so much to 
aneidate the earlv history of the North, are aboat to publish a more 
correct edition of this work. To the same Society we owe a com- 
plete edition of the historical sagas of the Icelanders recording 
events ont of that island. The original text now completed fills 
twelve large octavo volames, under uie title of Fommanna Sognr. 
The Danish translation of similar extent is also complete, and seven 
volumes of a Latin version, entitled *' Scripta Historica Islandorum 
de rebus gestis veterum Borealium,** have also appeared. This is 
said to be " Opera et studio Sveinbjomis Egilssonii in Islandia,"— 
an honourable testimony to the literary character of the country. . 


tious sagaSy in wliich both, the hero and the incidents 
were the creations of the poet's fancy, and where his 
power and skill in describing character as well as in 
combining events were displayed to the greatest advao- 
tage. These romances, as they may be called, arose at a 
late period in the literature of the north, when the 
reciting and composing of poems had become an art, and 
the demand for novelty on the part of the listeners 
could not be gratified by real occurrences. These sagas 
are, however, easily distinguished &om those that treat 
of real persons and events, by the tone and style, the 
endeavour after effect, the improbability of the inci- 
dents, and by the &ct that the few genealogies which 
do occur differ from those in the other sagas and in the 

Besides the Poetic Edda, the most extensive remains 
of northern poetry are the verses quoted in the sagas as 
sung on particular occasions by the characters intro- 
duced. These are not confined to the skalds, or even 
to men, but are put into the mouths of women and 
girls, proving that poetry was at that time a national 
accomplishment, and not confined to the great or learn- 
ed part of the people. These fragments, of which above 
five hundred lines are quoted in the Kenningar, or 
second part of the Edda, are ascribed to various poetfi^ 
most of them natives of Iceland. The subjects of them 
also vary : some, as Gunnlaug Ormstungas Sag% and 
especially those of Kormak, sing the tender passion; 
others are descriptive, but mostly historical, declaring 
the virtues of some hero, and sometimes of the skald him- 
self, or his friends. Satire was also a favourite mode of 
composition, and so prevalent that it was found neces- 
sary to restrain it by statute. As an instance of its 
power, it is told that the Icelanders, provoked by Harald 
Blaatand, king of Denmark, who had seized one of their 
merchant-ships, made such severe verses on him that 
he sent a fleet to ravage the island. This obliged them 
to make a law by which any one who should indulge in 


aatiTe against the soyereigns of Norway, Sweden, or 
Denmark, was subjected to capital punishment.* 

Owing to the depressed condition of the country 
during tiie following period, most of these works have 
periahed, and the names of their authors have been al- 
most forgotten. There are, however, many whose fame 
time has failed to obliterate, and in the Heimskringla 
and other sagas, some of which describe the actions of 
individual skalds, so much of their history is related 
that it has been said that their biographies would fill 
many volumes.t Amongst the most celebrated of these 
bards we find the names of Ragnar Lodbrok, Egill Scal- 
lagrimson, and Eyvind Skaldaspilder, whose works, 
though not produced in Iceland, have been preserved 
exclusively by the natives of that country. Of these the 
last is considered as holding the first rank among the 
northern poets, and his Hakonarmal is accounted one of 
their best productions. He also composed an ode in 
praise of the Icelanders, which so gratified the nation that 
each peasant contributed three pieces of silver, of which 
they formed a clasp for a mantle, fifty marks in weight, 
and sent it to the skald4 Other distinguished poets of 
this period were Olof Hvitaskald, Sieghvat Thordarson, 
Thord Kolbeinson, and the £unous Snorro Sturleson, 
whose laudatory odes or drapa gained him friends in 
every land.§ 

Poetry, even at that early period, acquired a peculiar 
form axid appropriate diction, named Asa-mal, or lan- 
guage of the gods. In the more recent specimens the 
measure is extremely complicated, as the skalds from the 
eleventh century delighted to exercise their ingenuity 
in multiplying to an almost endless extent the varieties 

* Mallet's Northern Antiquities, yoL i. p. 167. 

t Miiller, Island. Hist. p. 119. 

X Heimskrinsla, Harald Graafields Saga, leap. 18. 

i Henderson s Iceland, vol. ii. p. 353. Besides those in the 
text he also names Einar Skalaglam, Gunnlaug Ormstnnga, Marcus 
Skeggiason, Ottar Svart, and Sturla Thorarson, as celebrated 


of metrical systems. But with their departure &om 
nature and simplicity they lost much of the true merit 
of poetical composition, and the fetters they imposed on 
themselves marred at once the harmony of the verse and 
the graceful freedom that distinguished their predeces- 
sors. The oldest metre was that called hy them the for- 
nyrdalag, or ** the ancient lay," closely resembling in 
measure, cadence, and alliteration, the poetical remains 
of the Anglo-Saxons. It consists of short lines contain- 
ing two or three feet, the former predominating in the 
more primitve poems ; and traces of the more intricate 
forms do not appear till the reign of Harald Haarfager. 
Its most prominent feature were the alliterations it re- 
quired, which constituted its chief ornament and almost 
exclusive characteristic. Though found occasionally in 
the poetry of other nations, this was so &r peculiar to 
the great Grothic &mily, that they alone seem to have 
possessed a scheme of versification entirely founded on 
it. These alliterations supplied the place of our rhyme, 
which, however, was not altogether unknown, as several 
examples of it are found in the old sagas, and in 
ligil's far-famed poem the Hofudlausn, or *^ Redemp- 
tion of his Head." It was in the use of rhyme or asso- 
nant syllables, either occurring at the end or more fre- 
quently in the middle of the lines and even of words, 
that the later systems, of which more than 300 have 
been enumerated, difiPered from the ancient. The most 
common of these was the drottquaede, ** the heroic 
verse," or " king's song," used by the greater number 
of poets after the 9th century, consisting of lines of six 
or eight syllables. Poetry was also distinguished from 
prose by its circumlocutions and bold figurative imagery, 
which now seem far-fetched, and render it extremely 
dark to a reader not thoroughly acquainted with the my- 
thology and customs of the period. Some of the poems, 
however, are very simple, as those ascribed to women and 
children, whilst such as were composed with the great- 
est care by the true skalds are remai'kably artificial 
and obscure. It also possessed a vocabulary in some 


measure peculiar to itself, the words of which were 
never employed in prose or in common life. Many of 
these terms have a striking resemblance to the Anglo- 
Saxon, and in all probability were in common use 
at the time when the two nations issued from their 
original abode, thus forming fragments of that primitive 
tongue spoken by the ancestors of all the Teutonic 
nations. This circumstance by no means prevented 
the poetry from being popular, and is a strong proof 
of its great antiquity, its language remaining fixed 
whilst that generally spoken was in a state of constant 

The similarity of the Icelandic speech to the Anglo- 
Saxon is not confined to poetical words and phrases 
alone, but is also found throughout the whole of its &bric, 
and even in regard to some of the letters, such as the 
A of the Icelandic, which, though unknown to most of the 
allied dialects, is common enough in English. The rea- 
son of this resemblance is easily found in history, whence 
we learn, that not only were the Saxons the nearest 
neighbours of the Scandinavians, but that they were 
intermixed with Jutes and Angles, who imdoubtedly be- 
longed to the same race. Besides the resemblance com- 
mon to all the German and more northern tongues, our 
own will for this reason be found to possess many pecu- 
liar to itself ; and, even at the present day, the Danish has 
more similarity to it than to the German, and many anti- 
quated expressions on the western coast of Jutland are 
altogether English. This resemblance was preserved 
by the constant intercourse between Britain and the 
northern nations either for peace or war, which con- 
tinued till Canute united them all under a common 
sway. Even before this time, the Scandinavian language 
was known in Iceland as the Danish tongue (Dansk 
Tnnge). It probably received this name at the time 
when Norway was still divided into numerous inde- 
pendent stat^ and when Denmark was governed by 
a Rolf Elrake, a Ragnar Lodbrok, or some such po werfiil 
sovereign. Language was then the only point of unity 


in Norway, and this, not being peculiar to her alone, 
was named from the more extensive kingdom.* 

* For the above account of the ancient Icelandic literature, the 
author is chiefly indebted to the very interesting treatises of Bishop 
Miiller (Ueber den Ursprun^ und Verfall der IsUindischen Historio* 
irraphie, and Ueber die Nationalitat der altnordischen Gedichte). 
He has also consulted Henderson's able appendix on Icelandic poetry 
(Travels, vol. ii. p. 323-400), Wheaton's Northmen, p. 49-110, and 
Deppinp's Histoire des Normands, torn. i. p. vii-xxix. In Cony* 
beare's Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon poetry (Lond. 1B26), Introd. 
p. xxxix, some curious remarks on the similarity of the Icelandic 
and ancient Teutonic metres occur, and the remarkable coincidence 
of the poetry of these nations, both in form and language, is illus- 
trated by a literal translation of Gudrun's Lay into Anglo-Saxon 



Modem History qf Iceland, 

Cbanget oeeuioned bj Lost of lDdq>endenee — Extinction of Litera- 
ture — Stability of Language — New Laws — Diiputet of the King 
and Clergy — Papal Exactions — Crusaders — Hakon V. — Misfor- 
tonet in Fourteenth Century — Voyage of the Zeni — Commerce 
with England — English Bi9hops--John Oerriksen — Destitution 
of the Island — Governor slain by the English — Christian wishes 
to pledge the Island to them — Advantages of this Trade — Reli- 
gious Condition — Morals of the Clergy— Superstitions — Refor- 
mation-— Opposed by Jon Areson— His Execution — Suppression 
of Monasteries — Translation of Bible— Gudbrand Thorlakson— 
Amgrim Jonas— Pirates in Seventeenth Century — Commerce^ 
Trials for Witchcraft — Smallpox in 1707 — Icelandic Revolution 

The history of Iceland, in some measure, closes with the 
events related in the last chapter. By accepting the 
Norwegian monarch as sovereign, it was in reality re- 
duced to a mere province of that kingdom, though nomi- 
nally retaining the rank of an independent state. The 
■hores of the Thingvalla Vatn might still he enlivened hy 
the annual assembly of the Althing, but the importance 
of this court had perished with the national freedom, 
and scarce any other employment remained than to 
register the laws proposed for its reception. The very 
mildness and equity of the royal government for many 
years, also contributed to destroy the influence of that 
body, hy increasing the public confidence in their gover- 
nors, and by giving the members no occasion to complain. 
The power of the king also easily enabled him to suppress 
those feuds and tumults which during the last struggles of 
the aristocracy had spread such misery in the land ; and the 
people, enjoying a degree of peace and security unknown 


to them or their fathers^ were speedily reconciled to the 
foreign yoke. 

The changes produced were not, howeyer, all for the 
better, nor of such a pleasing nature as the one just men- 
tioned. During the period of independence, every man 
could turn his talents to account, and by participating in 
the national affairs, might hope to attain distinction. But 
this was no longer Uie case ; power emanatingfrom aprince 
in a distant land was seldomer conferred on persons of real 
abilities, and, being supported by foreign authority, had 
less need of their assistimce. That inward vigour which 
formerly distinguished the Icelander had now vanished, 
for the nation, no longer depending on its own resources^ 
trusted its lot to that higher power to which it had be- 
come subject. The plain upright manners of their fore- 
fetthers remained unoorrupted, but the energy of mind 
which enlivened them was quenched for ever. 

Literature, which had formed the glory of the past 
age, first felt the decline of this ; for freedom no longer 
led men to perform gallant deeds, or inspired the poet's 
soul to sing their praise. The interest in public afiiurs, 
much weakened during the feuds of the Sturlunga, 
was now also completely superseded by internal tran- 
quillity. The skald ceased to relate the history of his 
native land, for it no longer produced men or actions 
worthy to employ his pen. The annalist could only fiU 
up the list of years with a catalogue of the judges, or 
accounts of the famines and pestilences which now fre- 
quently ravaged the country. But before a century had 
elapsed, even this lowest species of historical literature 
also ceased ; and from 1350, when the plague deso- 
lated Iceland, no annals were composed till Biom of 
Skardsaa, about two hundred and fifty years after- 
wards, resumed the practice of recording passing events. 
The skaldic songs on the warlike adventures of their 
contemporaries, so common even in the close of the last 
period, were now changed into marriage-verses, birth- 
day poems, or at most humble rhymes in imitation of 
the old sagas. 


Neither did the taste for external history long survive 
among the Icelanders. The weKare of the country had 
suffered much during the civil wars ; and as many estates, 
on its submission, came into the possession of the Norwe- 
gian kings, the wealth and leisure of the chiefs soon 
vanished. Commerce likewise fell into the hands of 
strangers, the journeys of the natives to other countries 
became less frequent, and their knowledge of foreign 
afibirs more incomplete. At the same time, the con- 
gratulatory verses of the vassal-poet to his prince were 
naturally less valued than the free skald's song of praise 
to a stranger king. They no longer received such rich 
rewards, and soon after both skald and sagaman were 
banished from the court. Hence, as Torfsus justly ob- 
serves, Hakon, by subjecting Iceland, though he left his 
successors a more extensive kingdom, at the same time 
injured their glory by robbing them of the men who 
would have immortalized their name. 

Even when the Icelanders, subsequently to this period, 
travelled into Scandinavia, tiiey found themselves stran- 
gers there. Through carelessness and an increasing 
intercourse with Germany, the original language had 
begun to change in Denmark in the thirteenth century ; 
in the following one this corruption extended to Norway, 
and from the time of the union to Sweden also. Thus, 
throughout all the Scandinavian kingdoms the Danish 
tongue grew mute, and along with it the ancient sagas ; 
whilst in Iceland, separation from other nations, and the 
perusal of skaldic songs and histories, secured the con- 
tinuance of its tones. This separation from the rest of 
the world, both by place and language, was a great 
mean of preserving those old monuments, towards which, 
as the last remnant of ancient glory, the very isolation 
of the natives excited their attention and increased their 

This short eketch of the extinction of the historical 
literature of Iceland will sufficiently accoimt for the 

* Miiller, Island. Hist. p. 88-91. Torf. Hist. Nor. torn. iv. p. 367. 


meagreness of the succeeding portion of the national 
annals. Hakon did not long enjoy the territory which 
had cost him so much labour to win, for he died in 1269^ 
at Earkwall in Orkney, whither he had retired after his 
defeat at Largs by the Scottish king. He was succeeded 
by his son Magnus, sumamed Lagabaetir, or the law* 
mender, from his zeal in reforming and consolidating the 
Norwegian statutes, formerly contained in four separate 
codes. His success in this undertaking induced the Ice- 
landers to entreat him to perform the same office for 
them. With this request he complied, and introduced 
seyeral changes, many of them merely verbal, but others 
more important, as marking the improved spirit and 
greater enlightenment of the age. Of this kind were 
the omission of some of the severest enactments against 
paupers ; the mitigating of some cruel punishments for 
trivial offences ; and especially the forbidding the appli- 
cation of torture to females, which had previously been 
permitted in some cases. This new code having been 
sent to Iceland by Jon, who had formerly been lagmann, 
was on this account named the Jonsbok, and received 
the approbation of the Althing in 1272 and the following 
year. The close of Magnus' reign was signalized by 
disputes with the clergy, headed by the Archbishop of 
Trondheim, whose power now almost surpassed that of 
the sovereign. These contentions, however, scarcely 
affected Iceland, although in the agreement between the 
king and prelate, we find the latter bargaining for a 
share in its commerce, which, it may be presumed, had 
already become a profitable speculation. 

Under his successor, Erik the Priest-hater, these dis- 
putes were carried to still greater excesses, and by a 
royal decree the bishops of Iceland were deprived of 
much of that authority which they had assumed in all 
civil matters in the least degree connected with religion ; 
and also of a considerable portion of the church lands, 
which had been in the possession of the laity before the 
Norwegian dominion, but subsequently recovered. For 
these actions the king has been much censured by the 


Roman ecclesiastical writers, and threatening letters were 
sent him from the pontifP himself. But the dispute had 
a greater reference to the kingdom of Norway, and it was 
there that the battle was necessarily fought. The de- 
mands of the Archbishop of Trondheim, we may however 
mention in passing, were of such a nature, and encroached 
80 deeply on the royal prerogative, that we cannot wonder 
they were violently resisted. In Iceland, the parties seem 
to have prevailed alternately during some years, till the 
question was finally settled in 1295, by Arnar, bishop of 
Skalholt, who had gained the favour of the monarch 
whilst accompanying him on an expedition into Scania. 
The points in dilute were generally compromised, both 
sides yielding to a certain extent ; and with the exception 
of a few changes in the laws, no other remarkable occur- 
rence took place during his reign.* 

The spirit manifested by the clergy in this contest 
shows that they had now lost much of their primitive 
simplicity, and that the power of the Roman see was 
more fiilly established. Religion no longer possessed 
that purity which distinguished it during the aristo- 
cratic period, but was obscured by legendary talcs and 
miracles^ whilst the celibacy of the clergy and the wor- 
ship of saints and images were generally introduced. 
Poor though the country may appear, it did not escape 
the papal exactions, and during the thirteenth century, 
the Icelanders were several times requested to contri- 
bute towards the recovery of the Holy Land. At a former 
period, when the spirit of the nation was yet unbroken, 
many of them had joined Sigurd in his romantic ex- 
pedition to Palestine, and it is believed that others fol- 
lowed in the train of that Danish prince, who is im*- 
mortalized in the verses of the Italian bard.t But at 

* His qneen, Margaret of Scotland, bequeathed a precious gar- 
ment to the cathedral of Holom, in Iceland. 
t Sveno del Re de' Dani unico figlio, 
Gloria, e sostegno alia cadente etade, 
Esser tra qaei bramo, che '1 tuo consiglio 
Seguendo, han cinto per Gesti le spade. 

Tasso, Gerusal. Lib. cant. viii. st. 6, 7, 



this time the missionaries were less successful, and of 
those who assumed the cross, few or none had sufficient 
zeal to carry it to the Holy Land, most of them purcha^ 
ing dispensations. In the heginning of next century 
the Bishop of Holum received a brief from Pope Clement, 
enjoining a collection for the crusades, to give greater 
effect to which, a general remission was promised to every 
one who should contribute. Peter's Pence had also for 
some time been levied in the island, and a few years later 
we again find the Pope demanding supplies. The in- 
fluence of the clergy, even at that time, does not appear 
to have been great, the people following their counsd 
only when it agreed with their own wishes, and fire- 
quently opposing them with violence. Hence the kings, 
tiiough in general hostile to the pretensions of the 
priesthood, were often compelled to interpose their au- 
thority for the protection of the church.* 

In the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Ice- 
landers still manifested some portion of their former love 
of liberty, and a determination to maintain their rights. 
Accordingly, on the accession of Hakon to the Norwe- 
gian throne, before they would consent to do him homage, 
the Althing demanded a ratification on his part of the ori- 
ginal contract. The points on which they particularly 
insisted were, trial by the island courts, native magistrates, 
better regulations regarding commerce, and equal pri- 
vfieges with his other subjects. These rights being 
secured to them, they declared their willingness to pay 
him that tribute and obedience which had been agreed on ; 
but if not, they insisted that they should be freed from 
the obligation of their oath of fidelity. This question 
appears not to have been settled in 1306, when the Al- 
thing still hesitated about paying taxes ; but it must have 
been arranged soon after, as in 1310 the king sent them 
wood to rebuild the church of Skalholt, which had been 
destroyed by lightning in the previous year. 

• Crymogea, lib. iii. pp. 108-123, 129. An. ls\. Reg. Script. 
Rer. Dan. torn. iii. pp. 48, 1 11, 128, &c. Hist. Eccles. Isl. torn, i 
p. 57 ly &c. Torf. Hist. Nor. torn, i v. p. 271. 


Mnch of the history of this century is filled with the 
relation of physical evils which desolated the land^ and 
effectually subdued the spirit of its inhabitants. The 
latter part of the former was marked by violent earth- 
quakesy during which the sky was darkened with clouds 
of sand, probably from some volcanic eruption in the 
central desert. These were followed by an unusual ac- 
cumulation of Greenland ice around the whole shores, 
along with violent thunder-storms, and repeated earth- 
quakes. One of the most remarkable of these happened 
in the year 1339, which is said to have uprooted a hill 
in the south from its very base, and to have opened a 
boiling fountain 140 feet in diameter. It was also felt at 
the same time in Norway, where it destroyed fifty houses 
in one dLstiict. Hekla and the submarine volcano of 
Reikianes were likewise in activity, and in 1345, several 
islands emerged from the waters of the Breida Fiord. 
These convulsions of nature became less frequent towards 
the middle of the century, but their place was occupied 
by a no less frightful visitation. The black death, which 
desolated Europe about that time, also reached Iceland, 
and between 1402 and 1404 a similar pestilence swept 
off nearly two-thirds of the population. Many beauti- 
ful valleys are still pointed out, where its ravages have 
never been repaired, and the crumbling walls of the cot- 
tages alone remain to tell that there man once had his 
home. It is affecting to read the simple narrative of these 
calamities in the native historians, and to perceive how 
the bright image of the past, forcing itself on their view, 
only deepens the surrounding gloom.* 

It was about the close of this century (1380 to 1400) 
that the voyage of the two Venetians, Nicolo and Antonio 
Zeni, is said to have taken place. The first of them was 
driven by a tempest on the coast of a country which he 
calls Friesland, where he was well received by Zichmni, 

* Many instances of such valleys are noticed by Olafsen. Vid. 
theil i. pp. 140, 197, 269, &c. An. Isl Reg. p. 123. Crymogea, 
pp. 123, 130. 


the king of Porland, who was then subduing it. They 
entered his service, and, besides many other adyenturea^ 
relate that this prince, after conquering several of the 
neighbouring regions, determined on assaulting Iceland, 
but was induced to desist because he found it so well for- 
tified that he durst not attack it with his small ill-armed 
force. He, however, subdued seven other inferior islands 
situated in the same sea, named Talas,Broas, Iscant, Trans, 
Mimant, Damberc, and Bres, on the last of which he 
built a fortress and left some troops. To this narrative, 
which has acquired undue importance firom the circum- 
stance that the author is supposed in a subsequent part 
of it to refer to America, it would be a sufficient objection 
to state, that not the slightest hint of it is to be found in the 
native historians. But besides this, there is no period 
in the history of the island when it was at all fortified 
or able to resist even a weak armament ; and the ex- 
cesses of the English merchants, a few years later, show 
that it was not by any means so defended at this time. 
Not less fatal to the story is the fact, that not only are 
there no islands bearing the names above mentioned, — 
which by the way are completely foreign to the Icelandic 
language, — ^to be found on its coast, but that in truth 
there are not seven inhabited islands at all near it 
These reasons induce us to regard this part of the relation 
as utterly unworthy of credit.* 

* The ori^nal of the part referring to Iceland is as follows :— 
" Zichmni si dilibero di assaltar Islanda, che medesimamente con 
I'altre era sotto il Re di Norvegia : ma trovo il paese cosi ben 
inunito, et guamito di difesa, che ne fu ributtato per haver poca 
armata, et quella poca anco malissimo in ordine di arme, et di genti. 
Per laqual cosa si parti da quella impresa senza haveri fatto nulla, 
et assalto nelli istessi canau I'altre Isole, dette Islande, che sono 
sette, cio^ Talas, Broas, Iscant, Trans, Mimant, Damberc, et 
Bres : et messo tutto in preda edifico una fortezza in Bres.'* — 
Ramusio, Navigationi (Venetia, 1583), torn. ii. fol. 231, A. The 
theory of a learned author, who would make EstotiUuida Ireland,, 
cannot be correct, as this is mentioned under its own name 
** Frislanda, che e Isolaassaimaggiore, che Irlandae." — Fol.230,D. 
And that we may not again need to refer to this subject, we mar 
state that, for the same reason, Engroneland is not Greenlaiu^ 


The commerce of Iceland in the thirteenth and four- 
teenth centuries fell more and more into the hands of 
strangers ; the general depression of the country con- 
spiring with the want of proper ships to produce this 
effect. In the several treaties with tiie Norwegian mo- 
narchs freedom of trade had heen always one of the 
stipulations. Besides, the king was hound to send six 
merchant-yessels to Iceland every year ; and the desire 
of the archbishop to participate in this traffic proves, as 
we formerly observed, that notwithstanding the poverty 
of the country it was by no means unprofitable. The 
most interesting branch of their commerce was, however, 
that carried on by the English, which began to rise into 
importance about the commencement of the fifteenth 
century. Fishermen from the British shores, as we have 
seen, were in all probability the first discoverers of this 
remote island, and the introduction of the Norwegian 
colonies does not appear to have interrupted their inter- 
course. As a proof of this, it may be stated, that Eng- 
lish tapestry and linen are mentioned among the articles 
imported by the merchants who frequented it at a very 
early period. There is also evidence that Icelandic ships 
visited the English harbours during the reign of Henry 
m., and at the epoch of which we are now treating 
this conmiunication became more active and regular. 
The dried fish, of which this island, previous to the dis- 

this beiiif^alflo known by its own name (Gronlanda, vid. fol. 233, C). 
The fine monastery in the latter, and the ingenious uses to which 
the monks put the water of the hot springs, warming their apart- 
meats and hot-houses, where all kindb of fruit were produced, is 
the best part of the romance, as we must consider it. The original 
wiU be Toond in the second volume of Ramusio, third and fourth 
editions (foL 230-233). Among those who oppose its truth we 
may mention Amgrim Jonas, Spec. Isl. p. 142, &c. ; Memoir of 
Cabot, p. 328; Zahrtmann, Jour. Geog. Soc. vol. v. (1835), p. 102. 
On the other side the principal authorities are Foster, Northern 
DiseoTeries, b. ii. ch. 3 ; Murray's North America, vol. i. p. 28 ; 
Malte-Brun ; Walckenaer ; M. de la Roquette in the Biographie 
UniTerselle; and especially the two treatises of Cardinal Zurla, 
Dtssertazione intomo ai viaggi e scoperte settentrionali di Nicolo 
e Antonio Frat. Zeni, and Di Marco Folo, &c. 


covery of Newfoundland, was the great storehouse, ap- 
pears to have heen the object principally sought after 
by the English, and had been in common use in their 
country from the beginning of the fourteenth century. 
Soon after that time we find Edward III. granting se- 
veral privileges to the fishermen of Blacknie in Norfolk, 
and exempting them from his ordinary service, on ac- 
count of their commerce with Iceland. The town of 
Lyne in that county also followed the same trade, the 
voyage being usually made in a fortnight. In 1412 it 
is mentioned in the native annals, that thirty ships en- 
gaged in fishing were seen off the coast at one time, 
although Erik of Pomerania had the year before pro- 
hibited all strangers from resorting to this part of his 
dominions without special licenses. This regular per- 
mission appears to have been procured by several of the 
English merchants, whilst others chose to dispense with 
it; but the traffic, meanwhile, continued to increase, 
so that in 1416 there were no fewer than six of their 
ships in the harbour of Hafiia Fiord alone. In that 
year Erik complained to Henry V. of his subjects fre- 
quenting Iceland without leave, on which the latter 
monarch caused proclamation to be made in all the 
ports on the east coast forbidding any person to go there 
to fish, or for any other business, except what was 
usual in ancient times. Notwithstanding this we find 
in 1419 twenty-five English ships wrecked on this 
coast in a dreadful snow-storm ; whence it is manifest 
that the commerce still continued, the natives pre- 
ferring their goods, which were both cheaper and 
better than those furnished by the Danish monopolists. 
Even the Althing that year petitioned King Erik 
against the prohibition of the English merchants, com- 
plaining with but too much justice that the inhabi- 
tants had not been supplied with foreign necessaries as 
was promised in the original contract. The petition 
was of course rejected ; but no measures having been 
taken to redress the grievances which had occasioned it, 
the illicit trade continued, often, it is alleged, with the 


secret connivance or even the direct permission of the 

During the next six years tlie English disgraced 
themselves, and almost entirely forfeited the good opi- 
nion of the natives, hy the violence with which they 
resisted the attempts of the Danish officers to levy the 
duties, or to put a stop to the whole trade. Their 
principal station was on the Westmanna Islands, near 
which are the hest fisheries, and where they huilt 
housesi, and conducted themselves in every respect like 
masters, repelling hy force every effort to dispossess 
them. In the northern parts of the island their conduct 
was marked hy similar excesses; they plundered the 
village of Bessestad four times, huming several churches^ 
and carrying away every thing valuable. They also 
seized on some of the most wealthy inhabitants, com- 
pelling them to pay ransom, and even took two of the 
Danish officers prisoners to England, where, on their 
liberation, one of them presented a petition to the par- 
liament or council complaining of this unjustifiable 
treatment. But such were the profits or attractions of 
this conmierce that his companion sailed to Iceland next 
year in an English vessel, and again returned with it 
to that country ; the traffic continuing exceedingly active 
Dotwithstandhig the prohibitions of both governments. 

The great inducement to this trade on the part of 
the English was the demand for stock-fish, and on that 
of the Icelanders the superior quality of the British 
merchandise, especially of their strong ale. This con- 
nexion was confirmed about the same period by the 
appointment of several natives of this kingdom to the 
highest ecclesiastical offices on the island. One of 
these was John Johnson of Holum, who, after visiting 
his native land several times, at last resigned his 
bishopric, in which he was succeeded by John Wil- 
liamson, one of his coimtrymen. The see of Skalholt 

* Viga Glum Saga, p. 6. Hakluyt, vol. i. p. 122. Rymer*s 
Foodera, vol. ix. p. 322. 


was also connected with England by its bishop John 
Grerrikaen, a Swede by birth, and formerly Arch- 
bishop of Upsala, but who was deprived of it for bad 
conduct. He appears to have gone first to Britain and 
thence to Iceland, whither he was accompanied by two 
English priests and thirty Irishmen. The manner of his 
death is worthy of notice as a striking picture of the 
condition of the island at this time. His brother having 
been scornfully rejected by a young lady whom he 
courted, out of revenge slew her brother, and burnt 
the farm of Kirkebol, in the southern division of the 
island, with all its inhabitants. The lady, however, 
escaped, and, in the true spirit of chivalry, vowed to 
marry whoever would avenge her cause on the bishop. 
This was accomplished by Thorward, a son of the ridi 
Lopter of Modru valla in Oe Fiord, who the following year 
arrived at Skalholt with an armed band on the evening 
of St Thorlak*s Day. Soon after the mass was begun he 
entered the church, seized the prelate, led him out to the 
Bruarau, and tying a stone about his neck, or, as others 
have it, sewing him up in a sack, cast him into the rag- 
ing stream. Thirty of his foreign attendants were at 
the same time put to death in the cathedral itself ; and 
yet such was the lawless character of the country tjiat 
all these atrocities went unpimished.* 

Still more important for the island was the use which 
the bishops made of their connexion with Englamd as 
a pretext for procuring liberty from Henry VI. to con- 
tinue the trade. One of them affirmed that he was 
afraid to go so &r to visit his see, and wished to send 
the master of a vessel thither to inquire into its con- 
dition and to coUect the first fruits. If we may believe 
a petition from the Bishop of Skalholt to the "Rngliah 
government in 1440, the island was then in a very 

* Amgrim Jonas, together with the Annals of Iceland and of 
the diocese of Skalholt, place the death of the bishop in 1432, 
which is probably correct; Olafsen in 1434; and Prof. Magnusen 
in 1443. Crym. p. 134. Olafsen, th. ii. p. 230. Athenseumy 
^0. 512, p. 596. 


deplorable situation ; the commerce with Norway was 
almost entirely stopped, and no cloth, bread, or salt, 
no wine, beer, nor indeed any liquor, except milk and 
water, was to be found in the country. Such was its 
wretched condition that he expresses his fear lest, unless 
supplies were received from England, divine service, the 
celebration of the communion and of baptism, would 
soon cease. On these representations two merchants 
were permitted to send ships thither with the necessary 
articles and to receive its produce in return.* 

Things continued in this state during the remainder 
of Henry's reign, the trade being partly licensed and 
partly carried on in opposition to both governments. 
In 1453 Christian I., who had manifested great zeal in 
suppressing the tumultuous bands of armed men who 
wandered about the country killing and plundering 
the peaceable inhabitants, gave a commission to Biom 
Thorleifson to prevent all English or Irish from fre- 
quenting Iceland without the royal permission, and to 
enforce the payment of the duties. Biom about this 
period had taken possession of the vacant see of Skalholt, 
from which he was only expelled by the authority of 
the king and the threatened excommimication of the 
archbishop. In 1456, when returning from a voyage to 
Norway, he was wrecked on the Orkneys, deprived of his 
goods, and detained prisoner for some time. Next year, 
however, he reached his own country, and being ap- 
pointed governor, endeavoured to levy ttie duty of six per 
cent, imposed on English merchandise ; but in this at- 
tempt he lost his life, having been attacked by the British 
traders at the harbour of Rif, and killed with seven of 
his followers. His wife Oloff escaped in a fog, leaving 
her son Thorleif in the enemy's hands. When she re- 
ceived the mangled body of her husband, which the fo- 
reigners sent her cut in pieces, this high-spirited woman 
declared that she would shed no tear for him, but take 
care that his death should not be unavenged. Having, 

* Rymcr's Fcedera, vou x. p. 7(32. 


therefore, first ransomed her son, she put on a coat of 
mail, attacked, and after a bloody contest defeated the 
strangers, taking fifty of them prisoners and seizing three 
of their ships. She generously spared their lives, and 
soon after restored them to liberty ; after which she went 
to Denmark, where the king, by way of retaliation, cap- 
tured four vessels from (iondon and Bristol. The English 
retorting in the same manner, a war ensued between 
the two countries, which however was carried on with 
little spirit, and concluded by a truce in 1469, converted 
in 1474 into a peace, by which things were placed on their 
former footing.* 

Ships from other nations seem also to have frequented 
Iceland about this time ; and from his son's life we 
learn that the celebrated Columbus was on that island, 
or Tyle, as he calls it, in 1477. It has been supposed, 
and not without some show of probability, that he might 
here have heard of the discovery of America or Vin- 
land by the Northmen. In opposition to this conclu- 
sion, however, we shall merely refer to the labour which 
it cost the great navigator to get his plans put into exe- 
cution, and to defend them from the accusation of being 
the mere dreams of a disordered fancy. 

Columbus takes notice of the English trade in fish, 
and in 1490 we find it confirmed by a treaty conclud- 
ed at Copenhagen, in which, besides the usual firee- 
dom of commerce on both sides, it is expressly stipu- 
lated '^ that the English merchants and fishermen may 
freely repair to Tyle on paying the customary dues and 
getting their licenses renewed annually." This compact 
was published in Iceland by the chief magistrates Thor- 
leif Biomson and Theodorick Pining, the latter of whom 
had some time previously been appointed to clear these 
seas of our countrymen ; and the fact that a contagious 
disease was said to have been conveyed to the island in 
1493 in a bale of English cloth, proves that its privileges 
were not neglected. In 1618 there were 360 of their 

* Crymogea, pp. 136, 139. Olafsen, th. ii. p. 231. 


merchants in the harbour of Hafha Fiord alone, who, as 
appears from the complaints of Christian II., had not 
laid aside the violent habits of their predecessors. 
This monarch was only precluded by the events which 
deprived him of his crown from pledging Iceland to the 
same people for a sum of money. Had this happened 
it would probably have remained annexed to the 
British empire, and it is curious to speculate on what 
might subsequently have been its fortune.* As it was, the 
trade continued very brisk during the first half of the 
sixteenth century, and though it declined towards its 
conclusion, we yet find Elizabeth, in 1695, writing to 
Christian IV. to permit a merchant of Harwich to re- 
pair io the Westmanna Islands for fishing as in former 
years. To this the Danish monarch answered, that her 
subjects had only been prohibited because they would 
not comply with the ancient treaties, but that if they 
were willing to observe the conditions, they should be free 
to fish, except in the above-mentioned port, now, as in 
past times, appropriated to the use of his own court. Even 
so late as 1616 the fisheries there employed 120 British 
vessels, and this continued till it was ruined by some new 
regulations concerning salt in 1782. We have treated 
this subject at some length, not merely because it is con- 
nected with the commercial history of our own country, 
bnt also on account of its important influence on the fate ' 
of Iceland. In the opinion of a high authority, the Eng- 
lish trade would have been conducted peacefully and ad- 
vantageously if the Danish monopolists and government 
had not interfered ; and Iceland, was only rescued from 
that destruction which involved the sister colony in 
Greenland, by our merchants, who, in spite of the pro- 
hibition, supplied it with articles absolutely necessary 
for the existence of its inhabitants.t 

* Crymogea, lib. ill. p. 143. 

t Professor Finn Magnusen on the English trade to Iceland, 
m the Nordisk Tidsskrift for Oldkyndighed. Atheneum, No. 512, 
p. 595. Many of the treaties will be found in Rymer's Fcedera, 


In tracing the commercial relations of Iceland, we 
have for the sake of connexion passed over some other 
events of an ecclesiastical character, closely connected 
with the Keformation, which it will now he neoessary 
to resume. Mildness and patience seem to have been 
by no means the prevailing character of the Icelanders, 
and even the females long retained that love of war 
which distinguished their heathen state. Hence the 
clergy, though many of them were £ar from being mo- 
dels of Christian meekness and piety, often found it 
impossible to maintain their authority over their turbu- 
lent flocks. It appears that Biom Thorleifson was not 
the only chief who, towards the middle of the £fteenth 
century, had usurped the revenues of the church, and 
required the royal authority to restrain his violence. In- 
deed, complaints on this head seem to have been mutual, 
as we find, about 1480, both the king and the archbishop 
interfering ; the former to repress the exactions of the 
clergy, the latter to procure them payment of their just 
dues. If we may judge from the number of their attend- 
ants, the bishops were at that time the most important 
men in the island, as, by a kind of sumptuary law passed 
in 1513, they were allowed thirteen followers, whilst the 
governor and lagmann were restricted to ten. 

Many of the prelates and inferior clergy were, here 
as in other parts of Europe, men whose lives disgraced 
the profession they followed ; and thus, by lessening the 
respect of the people for the old faith, promoted invo- 
luntarily the change that was about to occur. Of this 
kind was Gottschalk, appointed to the diocese of Holum 
in 1500, who having quarrelled with John Sigismund, 
who was elected lagmann in 1512, left no means un- 

Yol. ix. p. 322; x. p. 416; xi. pp. 264, 273, 555; xii. pp. 375, 
361 ; xvi. p. 275 ; and the licenses, ibid. vol. x. pp. 645, 659, 
662, 711, 762. A curious remnant of this commerce is found in 
the English and French words that still occur in the Ise Fiords and 
the northern part of Bardestrands Syssel, and which are unknown 
in other parts of the island. These districts and the south were 
the chief seats of this traffic. Olafsen, th. i. p. 246. 


tried to procure the destruction of him and his whole 
jhmily by accusing them falsely of various crimes, for 
which he even got them condemned. His wickedness 
was however discovered, and himself exposed to uni- 
versal reprobation. He died in 1520, and was suc- 
ceeded by Jon Areson, a bold, unscrupulous person, and 
the great opponent of the Reformation, whose vices 
appear to have been redeemed by some good quali- 
ties. His colleague Oegmund, the bishop of Skalholt, 
was strongly suspected of being privy to the murder of 
Theodorick van Mynden in 1539, with eleven of his 
companions, though it was never proved, and he purged 
himself of it by oath in the general assembly of the 

Where the manners of the clergy were such, little 
religion could be looked for among the people. It 
consisted more in outward rites than purity of heart or 
conduct ; and the Virgin Mary or the archangel Michael 
found more worshippers than the Almighty Father of 
the universe. The sagas still continued to be read, to 
which the more pious, the Bible being imknown,* added 
that of the Lilia or Lilly, a Messiad of the fourteenth 
century, containing about one hundred verses. This 
poem, written in a simple style, contains, along with 
many superstitions, such a fulness of true Christian 
poetry, that it cannot be perused without interest even 
at present. At that period it was so highly esteemed 
thi^ many read it at least once a- week, and some even 
repeated it every day as a creed or prayer. Another 
work tending to preserve a knowledge of the sacred 
history and its truths was the Stiom, ** government or 
direction," written in 1255 by Brandr, abbot of Thyk- 
kabaer. But all these could not compensate for the 
want of the scriptures, and the people were degraded 

* Bishop Jonson supposes that, in many instances where it is 
said that people were sworn on the holy book, all that is meant is 
only an image of it cut in wood, or cast in a mould, several of 
which remained in the church of Slcalholt even in his time. Hist. 
Eccles. Isl. torn. ii. p. 183. 


by the most childish credulity. "We formerly men- 
tioned the magic ceremonies of the heathen period, and 
we may now add, that those which prevailed before the 
Reformation were equally gross and absurd. Superstitions 
which, in other lands, were left to the ignorant or de- 
signing, were here, from the thirteenth century to the 
Reformation, accounted among the learned sciences, and 
especially practised and encouraged by the clergy. Nor 
were these looked upon as any way wicked or dis- 
graceful, being dignified with the name of Holy Magic 
(magia religiosa), and those addicted to them were called 
Manne Larder or Kimnattumenn, that is, wise men, a 
name which they still retain among the common people. 
During the two centuries prior to the age of Luther, the 
time when the power of the church and the number 
of the monasteries was greatest, prosecutions for witch- 
craft, so common in more ancient times, almost ceased ; 
this kind of superstition, unless when employed to in- 
jure some person, not being accounted wordiy of censure. 
The principal pretensions of these wise men were the 
DOwer of healing all manner of diseases, of causing the 
Teins to open, the blood to spring out, and again closing 
them, of curing men possessed by evil spirits, and of 
exorcising these emissaries of the power of darkness. 
A certain formula and arrangement of words were pre- 
scribed in every case for accomplishing such feats. With 
these they also used some peculiar substances, especially 
such as were in any way connected with religion or the 
church, as bells, altar-cloths, the consecrated bread and 
wine, holy water, incense, and candles. To these were 
added signingar or benedictions, the sign of the cross, 
and certain psalms or prayers, which, when either read 
or worn on the breast, were esteemed infallible remedies 
against most accidents. With all this they united a 
belief in the supernatural power of healing possessed 
by particular plsoits, stones, and animals. It is melan- 
choly to reflect that such superstitions were not only 
permitted but practised by the most enh'ghtened part 
of the nation. What must have been the state of the 


illiterate, when those appointed to instruct them in their 
duty could teach that such things were not only inno- 
cent hut even holy and divine !* 

The Reformation, which had extended to most of the 
northern states of Europe, soon found its way into 
Iceland. Though the intercourse with other lands was 
less constant and active than in former times, yet many 
of the natives, especially those intended for the church, 
travelled to Denmark, or studied at the universities of 
Germany. On their return, these individuals proved the 
means of privately diffusing the reformed doctrines among 
their countrymen, which were accordingly soon adopted 
by many influential and enlightened persons. One of 
the most distinguished of these was Oddur Gottschalkson, 
a son of the Bishop of Holum, lately mentioned, hut who 
had been brought up in Norway from his sixth year. 
He afterwards went to Germany, where he became 
acquainted with Luther, whose views he embraced. 
He returned to Iceland with Bishop Oegmund, and re- 
mained some time in the service of this violent oppo- 
nent of the Reformation, from whom however he care- 
fully concealed his opinions and the New Testament, 
which he kept in his possession with the intention of 
translating it. He associated himself with his two 
friends, Gissur and Gisle, both of them converts to the 
&ith, and afterwards bishops of the Lutheran church. 
In order to conduct his work with greater safety, he 
constructed a chamber in a cow-stall, where he trans- 
lated the Gospel according to St Matthew, and subse- 
quently completed the whole at Reikum, where he had 

* Olafieii's Reise, th. i. p. 247, &c. Crymogea, lib. iii. p. 139- 
144. A crucifix in the church at Kaldadernes was a great object 
of reverence at the time of the Reformation for the wonders it had 
wrought. The figure was clothed in a very costly manner, with 
velvet shoes and numerous gold and silver ornaments. It was pulled 
down by Gissur, the first Lutheran bishop, but again replaced by 
the people. It was finally removed in 1 587 by Bishop Gisle Jonson, 
and taken to Skalholt, where it was destroyed. His death soon 
after was regarded as a judgment of the image upon him. Olafsen, 
th. ii. p. 228. 


gone on leaving Skalholt. But his acquaintance Gissur 
Einarson had a greater influence on the progress of reli- 
gion. Christian III., who favoured the Lutheran doc- 
trines, had in 1540 sent Christopher Hwitfcld to Iceland, 
who received anew the oath of allegiance from the in- 
habitants. On his return to Denmark, he took along 
with him Oegmund, now old and blind, who had pre- 
viously resigned his see, and appointed Gissur in his 
room. The opinions of the king thus became well known 
as favouring the reformers, and the new bishop, a learned, 
pious, and bold man, soon began to make innovations. 
In 1641 he gave the clergy liberty to marry, and con- 
firmed the precept by his own example. The mass and 
other popish ceremonies were next abolished, as we learn 
from a letter he sent to his majesty the following year, 
complaining that the people were now refusing to pay 
the usual tithes and revenues to the church. Dur- 
ing his life, the Reformation made great progress in 
the south ; his upright, pious conduct, and consistent, 
straightforward character, overawing all opponents. He 
was succeeded in 1547 by Marten Einarson, a man 
of great merit, but imfitted by his gentle disposition to 
command respect from a fierce turbulent people. He 
was, however, one of the best sacred poets of the time, 
and his hymns, some of which are still extant, show 
him to have been more adapted for the quiet and se- 
cluded pursuits of literature than for contending with 
the storms of his elevated station. Jon Areson, the 
bishop of Holum, resembled him only in his love of 
poetry, but was violently opposed to the changes intro- 
duced into the church. This prelate, who inherited the 
fierce intractable spirit of the old northern chieftains, 
whose blood flowed in his veins, was an enterpris- 
ing active man, and though illiterate, distinguished for 
popular eloquence, love of the national literature, and 
as being almost the last votary of the skaldic muse. 
Hostile to the new opinions, whether from policy or 
principle, he had only been prevented by dread of Gissur 
from openly taking a decided part against them. This 


obstacle was now removed, and he began to act in 
a manner which, manifesting more courage than pru- 
dence, led him into a kind of rebellion, justified as he 
thought by its motives. About 1580, he had induced a 
Swedish priest, Jon Matthieson, to come to Iceland, with 
a printing-press, to aid in the distribution of his writings 
against the reformers ; little thinking what a powerful 
instrument he was putting into the hands of his oppo- 
nents, or the use that was soon to be made of it in 
difiiLdng the Holy Scriptures. 

The means he now employed were of a kind more 
suited to his natural character. Taking arms, he set 
himself at the head of his Norrlanders, who were much 
attached to their bishop, and making an incursion into 
the south, took Marten prisoner, and carried him to 
Holom. He, at the same time, having dug up the body 
of the last pr^te as an apostate from the faith, cast it 
into a ditch lis unworthy of Christian burial, and con- 
ferred the bishopric on his son Biom. The king now 
ordered ll!un to Denmark, but he refused to obey, and 
proceeded to excommunicate a chieftain, though he did 
not belong to his diocese. A royal mandate for appre- 
hending him having now arrived, he was seized in 
1550, by the chief whom he had anathematized, in his 
house, which he had occupied with an armed force, 
and seemed by no means inclined to leave. He was 
conveyed to Skalholt ; and there being no vessel ready 
to take him out of the island, and none daring to keep 
him in it, he was, on this pretext, tried by the Althing, 
and condemned along with his two sons. Ari the 
eldest, formerly lagmann of the island, was offered his 
life, but would not promise to forego his revenge ; the 
bishop himself would not consent to live unless they 
spared his sons ; Biom entreated mercy, but was told 
that if two such brave men as his father and brother 
must die, it was fitting he should bear them company. 
All three were therefore compelled to lay their heads on 
the block, and though Chiistiem, at that time governor 
of the island, consented to the execution, the act was 


far from being generally approved. In the north, the 
stronghold of the Catholic religion, where Areson was 
very popular, it was peculiarly odious ; and some of the 
inhabit^ts, in the following winter, making an incur* 
sion into the south, slew Christiem, and thirteen others 
who had been most active in the death of their bishop. 
The death of this churchman, however, soon led to the 
extinction of the papal authority in Iceland, which had 
been chiefly supported by his influence. There was now 
no man to head the party ; and though the Danish mon- 
arch, terrifled at the appearance of rebellion which his 
proceedings had displayed, sent some soldiers into the 
island, their presence was not required to restore tran- 
quillity. The spirit of the ancient Northmen had un- 
doubtedly been once more awakened, but it was only 
for a moment, soon again to sink into the slumbering 
apathy of ages. Some great event, or the presence of some 
man of superior talents, could alone rouse them into 
action ; but the excitement once over, indificrence and 
inactivity had again possession of their souls. Paul 
Hwitfeld, therefore, who was sent in 1552 to punish 
the actors in the late tumults, found it an easy matter 
to establish the Protestant fedth ; and Olaf Hialteson' 
having been appointed to the see of Holum, used great 
diligence in reforming the church, in which he was 
assisted by Marten, now restored to liberty. The 
schools, which had latterly been almost annihilated, were 
not only restored, but also farther endowed by the libe- 
rality of the king ; and, in 1558, the last trace of Popery 
was abolished, by the suppression of the monasteries. 
Of these there were no fewer than nine on the island, 
namely, four in the north, three in the south, and one in 
each of the other districts. It was at first intended to 
establish public schools in place of these foundations, 
but this philantliropic design was not put in execution, 
and the government was content with restoring the two 
old ones.* 

* Am. Jon. Crym. lib.iii. p. 145-148. 01afsen*s Reise, tb. iu 
p. 231. Rheinwaid's Repertorium, vol i. p. 158. 


The influence of this great event on the morals and 
literature of Iceland was similar to that exercised by 
it in other parts of Europe, modified, indeed, by its 
peculiar circumstances and limited society. In regard 
to the former, one great benefit it produced was the 
abolishing of the privilege of sanctuary claimed by the 
church, in virtue of which the greatest criminals were 
protected till, having obtained absolution, they were 
again let loose on the public. Its effect on the latter was 
equally beneficial. The spell that fettered the literary 
spirit of the nation was now dissolved, and though pre- 
vented by the altered circumstances of the surrounding 
countries from attracting that attention which crowned 
their labours in former days, the works of her sons were 
neither few nor unimportant. Most of their writings 
have relation to the events of their own country ; and as 
the affiurs of Iceland did not for some time attract the 
notice of European readers, their fame was confined to 
the spot which gave them birth. In the former period of 
their literature, they had shone alone, and there was no 
brighter luminary to withdraw the spectator's eye ; now 
the surrounding nations had not only equalled but sur- 
passed them, and, busied with the mighty events con- 
stantly springing up around themselves, had no leisure to 
attend to the labours of this small unconnected commu- 

The first work that engaged the attention of the 
Icelanders was the rendering of the Scriptures into their 
own language. The translation of the New Testament 
by Oddur, already mentioned, was printed at Copenhagen 
in 1540, accompanied by the prefaces, and a few notes 
&om Luther's German version. Some other portions of 
the Bible followed, but it was not till 1584 that the whole 
of it was given to the people in their vernacular tongue. 
This great benefaction was due to Gudbrand Thorlakson, 
who was bom in 1 542, and chosen bishop of Holum when 
only thirty years old. This ofiice he retained fifty- 
six years, and was so assiduously employed in labouring 
for the welfare of his countrymen, that even at the pre- 


sent day his name is never mentioned but with the 
utmost affection and respect. He not merely executed 
the translation, adopting the parts formerly published, 
but having bought the press introduced by Areson, as- 
sisted in printing it with his own hands. The expense 
was partly defrayed by the bishop, and partly by a pre- 
sent from the king, aided by a tax levied on all the 
churches in the island. The version was made, not &om 
the original languages, but from the German one of 
Luther, and in 1584 the work appeared in a folio volume. 
He afterwards published an edition of the New Testa- 
ment in octavo ; and in the course of his long life, eighty- 
five works, mostly theological, written either by himself 
or under his superintendence, issued from the press.* 

Another distinguished literary character of this period 
was Amgrim Jonas, the friend, and for a long time the 
assistant in his episcopal office of Bishop Gudbrand. 
From his lonely residence in the north of Iceland, this 
learned and laborious individual sent forth twenty-six 
works on various subjects, of theology, law, history, and 
philology, chiefly illustrative of the antiquities of his 
own and the neighbouring countries. They are, for the 
most part, composed in remarkably pure and elegant 
Latin, in the use of which he surpassed all his contem- 
poraries. At this time, too, the national annals, the series 
of which had been interrupted for more than two cen- 
turies, were renewed by Biom of Skardsaa, who wrote 
those from 1400 to 1646, with a tedious minuteness, by 
no means justified by the importance or interest of the 
events related. Besides these, he was also the author 
of some other works, though none of them of great 

The progress of the seventeenth century is principally 
marked byadverse events, physical evils, and the rapacious 
violence of men who united to waste this miserable island ; 
while the wretched inhabitants, long unaccustomed to 

* A list of them ^i]\ be found in the Hist. Eccles. Isl. torn. iiL 
p. 378-381. Vide Henderson's Travels, vol. ii. Appendix i. 


the use of arms, could offer no resistance e^en to a small 
band of pirates. The oppression they suffered £rom these 
marauders was extreme, no part of the coast heing for a 
moment secure &om their attacks. It is a melancholy 
Sacty that the majority of them were French or English, 
as if the two most powerful and civilized of the Euro- 
pean nations had combined to oppress the poorest and 
most helpless, and to visit on their descendants the evils 
which had been endured from the ancient Northmen. 
In 1627, some Algerine corsairs, too, who found their way 
to that remote region of the ocean, spread universal dismay 
round the whole coast. After plundering many places 
in the south and east, they landed on the Westmanna 
Islands, burnt the church and other houses, and carried 
away captive all the inhabitants whom they had not 
massacred. The clergyman, Jon Thorstensen, murdered 
by one of his own countrymen who had joined the invad- 
ers, is still looked upon as a martyr, both in the island 
and in other parts of the country. He was a pious man, 
as well as one of the best sacred poets of the period, 
and is well known by his translations in verse of the 
book of Grenesis and the Psalms, which have been print- 
ed. A tower was afterwards built to protect the inha- 
bitants, but at this time the pirates got safe off, taking 
with them nearly 400 of the miserable natives. Olaf 
Egilson, another clergyman, was released -after two 
years' captivity ; but most of the others pined away 
their lives amidst the scorching sands of Africa, in vain 
regret for the snowy mountains of their northern land. 
Accordingly, when, after the lapse of nine years, the 
Danish government, moved by their calamities, redeemed 
them from slavery, only thirty-seven were found to have 
survived, and even of these no more than thirteen ever 
returned to their long-wished-for homes.* 

From about the period of the Reformation till this 
epoch, commerce was chiefly in the hands of the Grer- 

* Hist. Ecdes. IsL torn. iii. p. 80-63. Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. 
p. 131. 


mans or Hanseatic repubUcB, especially the meicliants 
of Hamburg and Bremen. But these having been ac- 
cused of abusing their privilege, Christian IV. deter- 
mined on remedying the evil ; and to effect this purpose, 
he deprived them of their rights, and instituted a Danish 
company, by whom it was ostensibly monopolized till 
the middle of last century. They are said at first to 
have conducted the trade on better principles, but the 
inhabitants soon found that they had only changed their 
oppressors. The English fishermen who continued to 
£requent the coast, and from 1640 to the end of the 
century often wintered in the island, supplied the na- 
tives with many articles. The French and Spaniard^ 
who went there for the whale-fishery so late as 1768, 
also acted in the same manner ; and as all these na- 
tions frequently hired Icelanders to assist them in their 
operations, this clandestine commerce was much fistcili- 

It is a curious circumstance, that a superstitious be- 
lief in magic arts seemed to increase after the Refor- 
mation ; a fact which may probably be accounted for 
on this ground, that formerly such pursuits being per- 
mitted, passed over without any notice, whereas now 
being visited with punishment, they made more noise, and 
hence the increase was more apparent than real. Another 
cause was the encouragement which the pretenders to 
these supernatural powers received from some of the 
authorities and more learned men on the island, who, 
by means of them, increased their influence over the 
minds of the common people. Certain of these persons 
encouraged the belief that they themselves were also 
possessed of similar arts, and not a few, even of the 
clergy, seem to have been deluded, and to have perished 
as victims of the law.t The time when this imaginary 
crime was visited with most severity was from 1660 

* Olafsen's Reise, tb. i. p. 198. 

t Among the books in highest repute with this learned class of 
vizards, were the works of Cyprianus and Cornelitts Agrippa, as 
also of Cardan, Wieras, and Albertus Magnus. 


to 1690, in which thirty years, sixteen persons, mostly 
from the West Fiords, were humt alive. At that time 
the authorities hecame more enlightened, and a law was 
passed, that no person accused of sorcery should he 
capitally punished hy the Heimthlng or native tribunals, 
all such cases being referred to the king. This proved 
the deathblow of witchcraft, which soon after disappear- 
ed from the land. The evil of these sanguinary statutes 
will be more apparent, when we consider that it seems 
almost certain, that more persons were legally murdered 
for this fictitious offence in those thirty years than have 
suffered for all other crimes in the one hundred aud fifty 
years that have since elapsed.* 

The eighteenth century was ushered in by a frightful 
pestilence, which swept off at least one-third of the en- 
tire population, proving particularly destructive among 
the most healthy and active. This was the smallpox, 
which raged with such virulence in 1707, that, according 
to the annals, the deaths in the whole island amounted 
to 18,000, and in Sneefield Syssel to 1500, or about as 
many as the whole inhabitants of the district forty years 
after, when its ravages were still visible in the many de- 
serted &nns and fishing-stations. In the middle of the 
century, the seasons were so inclement, tliat vast numbers 
of the cattle perished for want of food ; and in a fa- 
mine that followed, nearly 10,000 of the inhabitants 
died. The dreadful eruption of Skaptar Jokul, in 1783, 
which we have already noticed at considerable length, 
though its immediate locality was in the desert regions 
of the interior, spread deslruction throughout the whole 
island. The smallpox also added once more its fiital 
influence, and in a few years 11,000 individuals fell 
victims to these combined attacks. The destruction of 
the fisheries on the southern coasts was an evil of a more 
lasting character, and one from which the country was 
long in recovering.t 

• Olafsen's'Reise, th. i. p. 264. 

t Ibid. p. 165. Mackenzie's Travelf, p. 64. 


In the beginiung of the present centuiy, the last rem* 
nant of Icelandic independence was finaUy annihilated. 
The Althing, which for nearly nine hundred years had 
met at Thingvalla, was dissolved, and the supreme courts 
of judicatory transferred to Keikiavik. Though this 
chaiige was prohahly on the whole advantageous, and 
the assembly had long ceased to possess any political 
importance, yet it is impossible to view the extinction of 
this ancient institution with indifference. It formed 
the last link which connected the present with the past, 
the only monument of national independence, the living 
memorial of the most important events in the people's 
history. All around was consecrated by the deeds of 
their ancestors, each rock, each stone, each pool of the 
dark river, had its story, and was associated with the 
namesof the heroes and bene&ctorsof the nation. Besides^ 
whilst it continued, the national existence was preserved, 
and the self-respect of the people heightened. Though it 
had fallen into decay, and its powers were altogether dor- 
mant, still it was something that the form yet remained 
ready to be called into action should it ever be required. 

In the year 1809 a London merchant, on the infor- 
mation of Jorgensen, a Danish prisoner of war, sent a 
ship to Iceland for the purpose of trading there, on board 
of which was the person just named. The laws of the 
island forbidding all intercourse with strangers, they were 
not permitted to land the cargo ; but on their seizing a 
Danish brig, leave was granted, though still no person 
would buy their goods. On the arrival of the governor. 
Count Trampe, in June, and of a British sloop-of-war 
soon after, a convention was entered into, by which 
British subjects were allowed to trade, subject to the 
laws. Some delay having occurred before this agreement 
was published, the governor was taken prisoner by the 
captain of the English ship, and Jorgensen installed in 
his place. He soon proclaimed the independence of the 
island, hoisted a blue flag with three white stock-fish as 
the national arms, and travelling about the country with 
a body of natives whom he had armed, seized on all 


public and private property. But the arriyal of anotlier 
doop-of-war stripped him of his power, and he was sent 
to l^gland along with the governor. The only advan- 
tage ^lis event brought to Iceland, was an order in 
council, issued by the British government, on the 7th of 
Februaiy 1810, by which the inhabitants of Iceland, 
Faroe, and Greenland, were to be considered as stranger- 
friends, their property was exempted from all attack, and 
their ships were permitted to trade with the ports of 
London and Leith. This state of things continued to the 
dose of the war in 1815, and in the following year the 
commerce was declared free to all nations.* 

In concluding this account of Icelandic history, it is 
pleasing to reflect, that the condition of the country 
seems gradually improving. It can never hope to regain 
the high position it formerly held among the European 
nations, or to be completely delivered from those physi- 
cal disasters which too frequently blight the &irest hopes 
of its children. But, at the same time, its literature may 
expect a due share of public attention ; and increased 
intercourse with foreign states, and quicker methods of 
communication, will probably prevent &mine from again 
sweeping off a fourth of its population by a lingering 
death. Whether the progress of science will ever enable 
its inhabitants to convert those mighty volcanic agents 
which now convulse the surface of their land, into in- 
struments of human industry, may to many seem more 
than doubtful ; but we may at least hope that it will 
teach them to obviate some of their most destructive 
effects. The former is, however, the opinion of a 
distinguished philosopher, with whose words, full of 
promise for the future, we shall conclude tbis chap- 
ter. ** In Iceland, the sources of heat are still more 
plentiful ; and their proximity to large masses of 
ice seems almost to point out the future destiny of that 
island. The ice of its glaciers may enable ite inhabi- 
tants to liquefy the gases with the least expenditure of 

* Mackenzie'* Travels, p. 80, note. Hooker, vol. ii. p. 1-102. 


mechanical force ; and the heat of its volcanoes may 
supply the power necessary for their condensation. 
Thus, in a future age, power may hecome the staple 
commodity of the Icelanders, and of the inhabitants of 
other volcanic districts ; and possibly the very process 
by which they will procure this article of exchange for 
the luxuries of happier climates, may in some measure 
tame the tremendous element which occasionally devas- 
tates their provinces."* 

* Babbage on the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures 
(London, 1832, second edition), p. 384. 



Character and Present Condition of the Icelanders. 

Descent — Unity of Character — Appearance— Disposition — Hospi- 
tality — Piety — General Education — Employments in Winter 
— Reading Sagas — Amusements — Music — Fishing — Hay-har- 
Test — Sheep-shearing-^oumeys — Collecting the Iceland Moss 
— Food — Dress — Houses — Population — Births, Deaths, and 
Marriages -^ Diseases — Property — Agriculture — Commerce — 
Government and Law-^Taxes — Ecclesiastical Establishment^ 
Revenue of Clergy — Character — ^Education — School of Bessestad 
— Literary Habits — Present Stat« of Literature — Theology — 
Classical Learning — Science — History — Poetry. 

As appears from the foregoing history, the Icelanders 
are principally descended from Norwegian ancestors, in- 
termixed with a few Danes, Swedes, and Britons. AU 
these nations were, however, of common origin, and, 
at the period of colonization, closely allied in religion, 
language, and manners ; so that this people may he con- 
sidered as sprung from one simple stock, hearing the 
greatest resemhlance to the present inhahitants of Nor- 
way. We have in former chiapters noticed the peculiari- 
ties which distinguished the first colonists of this island, 
—their love of war and freedom, their adventurous spiri^ 
their mingled superstition and scepticism, their eager pur- 
suit of poetry and traditionary lore. We have also seen 
the changes produced hy Christianity, mitigating the 
harsher features of their character, and the more melan- 
choly changes which followed their suhjection to a 
foreign power, always neglecting, too often injuring and 


opposing, the true interests of the nation. How &r these 
causes, and the influence of an unpropitious climate, 
have modified the national character, is the question we 
must now attempt to resolve in delineating the present 
hahits and condition of this lonely people. 

In most countries the effects of climate and political 
institutions are counteracted hy intercourse with other 
nations, and hy the variety of emplo3rments among the 
people themselves. But nothing of this kind happens 
in Iceland, the commerce of which has long heen entirely 
in the hands of foreigners, and where the natives are £dl 
of one rank, and engaged in the same pursuits. The 
hereditary jurisdictions having heen soon aholished, 
government offices or preferment in the church form the 
only distinctions in the country ; hut the salaries attach- 
ed to these appointments are seldom sufficient to raise 
their occupiers above the general rank of the people, and 
are in many cases inadequate to their support. Hence 
the same pursuits and modes of life have stamped on the 
inhabitants a greater unity of character than is to be 
found in almost any other land. 

In personal appearance the Icelanders still retain 
many of the peculiar attributes of their Scandinavian 
ancestors, so well known 

** By the blue eye, tall form, proportion fair, 
The limbs athletic, and the long light hair." 

It is the first and last of these qualities, however, that 
are now most firequently found, the Icelanders being in 
general of moderate size and a weakly constitution, the 
result of the poorness of their food and want of proper 
exercise when young. The head is moderately large^ 
the countenance open, and the features, notwithstand- 
ing the rather projecting cheekbones, pleasing, espe- 
cially in the fair sex. They have almost universaJly 
fine teeth and yellow flaxen hair. Corpulent indi- 
viduals are seldom met with, though offcener amongst 
the women than the men. In Anundar Fiord, and some 
other parts of the western peninsula, the natives allow 


their beards to grow, and also differ iii other respects 
from their countrjnnen.* 

The melancholy character of the climate and scenery, 
together with the remembrance of the faded glories of 
their country, has given a peculiar impress to the 
minds of the people. Dwelling in desolate places 
deprived of almost all vegetation, in dark miserable 
houses where the light of day can scarcely penetrate^ 
amidst scorched rocks of rugged lava, or enclosed be- 
tween the raging sea and the black clifis, they become 
serious, quiet, humble, and little disposed to exert them- 
selves, u^ess impelled by necessity. Influenced by 
these causes the Icelander of the present day closely 
resembles his native land, where the most destructive 
flres are concealed beneath its snow-clad rocks. Still 
and unmoved, they account it shameful to be betrayed 
into any violence, or to intermingle their conversation 
with those gestures so common in more southern coun- 
tries. Whilst the most powerful passions are raging 
within their breasts they stand like statues, but once 
roused into action they prove that the blood of the 
Vikingr still flows in their veins. Firm, patient, and 
enduring, they occasionally remain on the water in their 
fishing-boats thirty-sixhours withouttastingfood, it being 
a disgrace to take even a piece of bread along with them. 
The same character manifests itself in all their under- 
takings,— ^lifficult to be set in motion, they persevere 
with the utmost energy, and never desist so long as there 
remains the smallest probability of success. Acute ob- 
servers, they soon discover the difference between them- 
selves and other nations, but exhibit no predilection for 
foreign customs ; and, however violent enemies to each 
other, they constantly make common cause against any 
stranger. The unwearied industry with which they 
pursue their usual avocations forms a strong contrast 
with their opposition to all improvement ; arising, not 
from want of ability to learn, but because their reverence 

* Henderson, vol. 1. Introd. p. xxziii. Gliemann, p. 120. 


for the past inspires them with distrust of all things not 
derived from their fathers. 

As the present offers few objects of interest to the 
Icelanders, they more than any of the continental na- 
tions live in the past, and willingly lose the conscions- 
ness of their personal degradation in the glories of their 
ancestors. With little to excite or elevate, strangers are 
apt to regard them as of a sullen and melancholy di^ 
position, though others with good opportunities for 
observation describe their *' predominant character as 
that of unsuspecting frankness, pious contentment, and 
a steady liveliness of temperament, combined with a 
strength of intellect and acuteness of mind seldom to be 
met with in other parts of the world."* This difference 
of opinion probably arises from variety of temperament 
in the observers themselves ; but all allow them the more 
solid qualities of fidelity, truthfulness, and an obliging 
hospitable disposition. For this last they are particularly 
distinguished, giving freely the little they possess, 
though thereby exposing themselves, especially in remote 
districts, to great inconvenience. That which in other 
lands is only praiseworthy becomes here a true virtue, 
requiring much self-denial to practise it. When these 
poor people give a visiter a glass of milk or a cup of 
coffee, they often deprive themselves of an essential 
article of food, or sacrifice in a moment that which they 
have amassed with great care for some family-festival. 
Bark and dreary though their country may seem, yet 
they love it with a fond affection and warmth of 
patriotism imknown in more favoured regions. Though 
they frequently travel to happier climes and obtain iie 
means of remaining there in affluence, they seldom fail 
on the first opportunity to hasten to their native land, 
and home-sickness is as common among them as among 
the children of the rugged Alps. 

Piety is a no less distinguishing feature in their cha- 
racter, the majestic scenery of this wild land forcing 

* Hendersun, vol. i. Introd. p. xxxiv. 


home to the soul the littleness of man, his incompetency to 
struggle with the mightier powers of nature, and his de- 
pendence on some higher being. Hence those of their 
ancestors who rejected the cruel and absurd mythology of 
the Edda, did not &11 into total unbelief, but turned to the 
worship of that god, unknown though his name might be, 
who created the sun : And the same spirit still animates 
their descendants, who, recogmsing the hand of Providence 
in all the occurrences of life, bear with resignation the nu- 
merous calamities to which they are exposed. The moral 
character of the people also staiids very high, and vice is 
almost unknown except among the inhabitants of Reikia- 
yik, who have been much corrupted by the manners of 
the Danes and other foreigners who frequent the har- 
bour. Drunkenness, the besetting sin of cold climates, 
though less frequent since the war, still prevails to a great 
degree, even amongst those whose education ought to 
plaice them above this temptation.* 

Although deprived of all those means of instruction 
which are thought so necessary in other countries, there 
are yet almost none of the Icelanders of the proper age 
who cannot read and write. Indeed, with the exception 
of a few superstitions encouraged by their physical cir- 
cumstances, and but lately expelled from more civilized 
societies, the mental cultivation of the natives is very high. 
Education is all conducted at home, parents teaching 
their children as they themselves were taught before, and 
the cleigyman visiting each &mily several times in the year, 
and examining into the progress they have made. The 
influence of this pastoral superintendence is much in- 
creased by the power intrusted to the bishop and infe- 
rior clergy, of preventing the marriage of any female who 
cannot read. The extent of information thus acquired, 
not only of the history of their own and connected na- 
tions, but even of classical times and oriental countries. 

• Henderson, vol. i. p. 96 ; vol. ii. pp. 94, 189. Hooker, vol. i. 
p. 119. Mackenzie, p. 269. Marmier, Lettres sur Tlslande, pp. 
12, 13. 


is very remarkable. An instance of this occurred to Dr 
Henderson, who, mentioning the date of a letter from 
the King of Persia as in 1229, a little boy remarked, that 
it must be very old ; when a peasant corrected him by 
saying, that it was not dated from our era, but from that 
of the Hegira.* 

The inhospitable climate influences eveiy thing con- 
nected with the moral and physical life of the natives. 
The changes of the seasons alone bring variety to the 
Icelander, and nowhere is this change more sudden or 
complete. Summer and winter, for spring and autumn 
are unknown, have each their appropriate occupations 
as diverse as the periods of the year. In winter they 
generally rise about six or seven in the morning, when 
the employments of the day begin, the family and ser- 
vants equally engaging in the preparation of food and 
clothing. Some of the men look after the cattle, feeding 
those which are kept in the house, others spin ropes of 
wool or horse-hair, or are employed in the smithy mak- 
ing horse-shoes and other articles, whilst the boys re- 
move the snow from the pastures for the sheep, which are 
turned out during the day to shift for themselves. The 
females make ready the several meals, ply the spindle 
and distaif, knit stockings and mittens, and occasionally 
embroider bedcovers and cushions. When evening comes 
on, the whole family are collected into one room, which 
is at once bedchamber and parlour, and the lamp being 
lighted, they take their seats with their work in their 
hands. Men and women are now similarly engaged in 
knitting or weaving, or in preparing hides for shoes or 
fishing-dresses. While they are thus occupied, one of 
their number, selected for the evening, places himself 
near the lamp, and reads aloud, generally in a singing 
monotonous voice, some old saga or history. As the 
reading proceeds, the master of the house or some of the 
more intelligent of the circle pass remarks on the more 
striking incidents of the story, or try the ingenuity of 

* Henderson, vol. ii. p. 222. Mackenzie, p. 292. 


the cbfldren by questions. Printed books being scarce^ 
there are many itinerating historians who gain a liveli- 
hood by wandering, like the bards of old, from house to 
hoose^ and reciting their traditionary lore. For the same 
reason, the custom of lending books is very prevalent ; 
the exchanges being usually made at church, where, 
even in the most inclement season, a few always contrive 
to be present. The most interesting works thus obtained 
are not unfrequently copied by those into whose hands 
they fally most of the Icelanders writing in a correct and 
beautiful manner. It is much to be regretted, that 
a people so devoted to learning, and to whose ancestors 
the history of the north is imder so many obligations, 
should be so ill supplied with the means of attaining 
useful information. 

The natives have few amusements, and those chiefly of 
a quiet and meditative nature. Chess, of which they seem 
to have various kinds, and a game resembling draughts, 
are the £sivourites, to which they sometimes add cards. 
In former times, music appears to have been cultivated 
with some success ; but their poverty has repressed this 
taste, and many of their old instruments are known only 
as objects of antiquity. They now show neither genius 
nor loye for this science ; resembling in this respect 
the Egyptians^ and probably on similar grounds, life and 
death meeting in close conjunction around them.* 

Summer brings with it a wider range of employments. 
Even before the winter is over, when the pale sun can 
scarcely penetrate the mid-day gloom, the inhabitants of 
the north and of the interior are seen hastening to the 
southern and western shores, which are then alone free 
from ice, to reap the rich harvest Providence has re- 
served for them in the stormy waters. The ver-tima, or 
fishing season, continues from the Sd February to the 
12th of May, and must be assiduously employed in order 

* Mackenzie, pp. 276, 469. Henderson, vol. I p. 364-368. Hooker, 
vol. i. p. 283. 


to provide a winter store. To prevent, as much as pos- 
sible, the bad e£Pects of cold and damp, each fisher has a 
dress of leather, rubbed over with train oil till it is almost 
impervious to water. Their boats are commonly small, 
with one to four men in each, though laiger ones with 
sails, containing eight or nine, are sometimes used, parti- 
cularly on the western coast. The fish are mostly caught 
with lines and hooks, baited with shell-fish or pieces of 
flesh. When the adventurers leave the shore, it is cus- 
tomary for them to take ofi^ their hats, and offer up a 
petition for good success, recommending themselves to 
the Divine protection in a prayer or hymn. They then 
row to the places frequented by the fish, and continue 
angling the whole day. On their return the produce is 
equally divided, the owner of the boat getting one share 
whether he has been at sea with them or not. The fish 
are then cut up, the backbone taken out^ and in fine 
weather they are spread out on the shore to dry, but in 
lain placed in heaps with the skin uppermost^ in which 
state they are often spoiled, and must be sold at an inferior 
price. The drying process requires a fortnight or more 
before it is completed, and is sometimes carried on in 
long open sheds. The heads are also cut off, dried, and 
either used by the fishermen themselves, or sold in the 
country. No part is wasted, oil being extracted from the 
livers, and the bones used for fiiel, or boiled till they 
are soft, and given to the cows for food. 

The fish most in esteem is the cod, especially the 
variety known as the dorsch (Gadua callariai), which, 
though smaller, is reckoned superior to that taken on 
our coasts. The liag, torsk, haddock, and other species^ 
included by Linnseus in this genus, are also commonly 
caught, together with soles, flounders, herring, and salmon, 
though the latter are more frequently sought for in the 
rivers. The Icelanders used also, in their more pro^r- 
ous days, to pursue the whale, the monarch of the deep ; 
but that majestic animal has been almost entirely chased 
from their shores, and is now regarded by the natives, 


tinable to contend with it in their small boats, rather 
^th terror than as a welcome prize.* 

The preparation of turf for fuel is another of the sum- 
mer occupations of the males, who then devolve the care 
of the cattle on the women. No sooner is the ground 
thawed than they begin to cut it, and place it in small 
heaps for protection from the rain.t But about the 
middle of July, the busiest period of the Icelandic sum- 
mer begins, and the tide of population flows from the 
coast to the interior. The grass has then attained its full 
growth, and the hay harvest commences, on the success 
of which the support of the cows and consequent com- 
fort of the natives so much depend. The men mow it 
with a short scythe about two feet long and two inches 
broad, whilst the females turn it to dry, and collect it 
into little heaps. When ready, it is made up into 
bundles and carried home, either by men or on horses, 
one being slung on each side. It is by these horse-loads, 
named kapalls, that hay is usually sold, though when old 
and well pressed together, this is also done by measure. 
The hay from the enclosed ground, named tada, is scru- 
pulously preserved for the cows, whilst the coarser, tand, 
gathered from the fens and marshes, is sometimes, in 
severe storms, given to the sheep. Not only are the pea- 
sants themselves employed in this labour, but they also 
hire persons from the fishing-stations on the coast, many 
of whom take long journeys for this purpose. They cut 
by measurement a day's work, or dagslatta, being an 
even piece of land containing thirty square fathoms, and 
are paid at the rate of thirty pounds of butter per week. 
These are not arbitrary quantities, for the amount of 

* Olafsen's Reise, th. i. p. 180-185. Horrebow's Nat. Hist, 
ebap. W. Wi. &c. Von Troil*s Letters, p. 124-129. Marmier, 
p. 16. 

+ The first who used this material for fuel is said to have been 
Einar, a jarl of Orkney, and brother of the famed Rolf or Rollo of 
"Sormwady, He lived in the time of Harold Haarfaji^er, and, on 
account of his discovery, was commonly called Torffeinar. — Cry- 
mogea, p. 50. 


labour and the recompense for it have been fixed in 
almost all cases by particular laws, which, as must ever 
happen in such circumstances, are often disregarded.* 

This harvest being over, the farmers employ them- 
selves in collecting the sheep that, during the summer, 
have been wandering wUd on the mountains, bringing 
them home, and killing those needed for the winter. The 
Icelanders do not shear this animal, as in other coun- 
tries, but either pull the wool off when it begins to get 
loose, or allow it to fall spontaneously. The reason for 
this, according to Ola&en, is, that in cutting the wool they 
would also remove the long coarse hair, which is con- 
sidered the principal protection from the rain, and would 
thus be obliged to keep them shut up during the cold 
season. At this time they also repair their houses for 
the ensuing winter, and build new ones, bring home 
wood or the turf formerly prepared, and carry out and 
spread the manure on the enclosed pastures as soon as 
the grass begins to wither.t 

Besides these, which we may consider as the regular 
employments of the people, there are others peculiar to 
some classes or parts of the country. The whole nation 
is much inclined to travelling, which both men and wo- 
men perform on horseback ; but there are some jour- 
neys that may be almost considered as a necessary part 
of their occupation. Such are those to the fishing-stations 
in the spring, whence they return in the beginning 
of May ; and to the trading town to exchange th^ 
home-produce for various foreign luxuries or necessaries. 
This last happens about the middle of June, and the 
various articles are placed on the backs of horses, pro- 
tected by a packsaddle of turf. When the journey is 
long, they generally have some spare animals in their 
train, and the whole are tied together in a line, the head 
of the one being fastened to the tail of another. This 
mode of travelling has quite an oriental appearance, and 
one might almost fancy himself in the midst of an Ara- 

* Henderson, vol. i. pp. 363, 31)4. Olafsen, th. i. p. 16-19. 
f Olafsen, th. i. pp. IS, 107. Henderson, vol. ii. p. 157. 


bian caravan, especially when crossing the sandy deserts 
of the interior. As there are no inns, they carry tents 
and provisions along with them, and there are usually 
places of rest, where the cavalcade, often containing 
sixty or seventy horses, stops for the night. These are 
frequently in the midst of the wide heaths, marked out by 
a heap of stones or cairn, whose magnitude every traveller 
considers it his duty to increase. Such mounds, in some 
cases, attain a great altitude, as that on Smiorvatns Heide, 
near the Vapna Fiord, and one called Beinakjelling in 
Kaldedal, in the district of Borgar Fiord.^ 

As there is almost no money in the island, the exchange 
of the articles is usually eflFected by barter, which is also 
preferred by the Danish traders. The Icelander, on his 
arrival in the vicinity of the town, pitches his tent, 
and leaving his horses and goods, proceeds thither alone, 
visiting all the merchants, and inspecting their wares. 
It is only after having gone through the whole, that the 
cautious native completes his bargain, in which he is 
nevertheless but too often cheated ; the merchants taking 
care that there shall be no scarcity of brandy, a small 
quantity of which soon dispels the timid prudence of the 
poor fisher. In these moments of excitement, the pro- 
duce of the winter's labour, that was to provide necessary 
comforts for a whole year, is too frequently squandered. 
But even when intoxicated, the native goodness of their 
heart displays itself ; there is no fighting or quarrelling, 
no noise or tumult, but catching each other by the hand, 
they epibrace with the greatest affection. 

The gathering of the Iceland moss (Oetraria islandica) is 
an employment for the females during two or three weeks 
in the middle of summer, when the other sex are fishing 
in the fresh waters, or absent on their trading journeys. 
The natives distinguish several kinds of this plant, 
to which they give difierent names, but the best is of a 
bright brown colour, and grows most abundantly in 
stony places where there is no grass. To collect it, one 

* Gliemann, p. 131. Henderson, toL ii. p. 168. 


or two women from each fann go eyery year into the 
desert parts of the island, twenty or thirty miles from 
the inhabited districts. They take with them horses, 
tents, and food, and unite into largfe parties, haying 
along with them two or three men to protect them from 
the robbers, who are belieyed to frequent those parts of 
the country. They moye about from place to place, 
pitching their tents whereyer the moss is abundant, until 
their horses are loaded with this nutritious lichen ; and 
as it becomes rough and hard in dry weather, they prefer 
gathering it in moist days, or during the clear nights of 
the northern summer. The period spent wandering in 
this manner through those romantic districts is the 
happiest in the life of the Icelander, and is looked for* 
ward to with high expectation. Companies from distant 
parts of the land often meet in such excursions, when 
each haye their tale to tell of the occurrences of the last 
winter,— of the snow-storm or tempest, — of dangers by 
flood or fell, — ^things triyial in themselyes, but composing 
the history of this simple people.* 

The produce of a country, especially when poor, must 
eyer form the chief support of its inhabitants, and de- 
termine the nature of their food. This is particularly 
the case in Iceland, where the sea and the meadows pro- 
vide for all the wants of the people, and are almost the 
only source of wealth. Fish, fi^sh or salted, and the 
flesh or milk of their flocks and herds, are the staple 
articles of their diet, to which is occasionally added a few 
vegetables, or meal imported from abroad. The gardens 
in the island are small, and contain only the more hardy 
plants, as cabbage, white and yellow turnips, potatoes, 
and a little salad ; but with the exception of the mini- 
sters and sysselmen, these luxuries are only possessed 
by the inhabitants of the seaports. The wild plants 
that can be used for sustaining life are not numerous, 
and only a small part of the food of the natives consists 
of vegetables. Milk is prepared in various ways : in 

* Ola&en's Reise, th. i. p. 85. 


a sour or curdled state, and mixed with water, it is 
their common drink, and is called syre ; whilst thick 
milk or skier is their principal food. They use butter 
in immense quantities, and prefer it unsalted and very 
old, when it has a sour taste, and will keep for any 
length of time without becoming worse. When this 
£eu1s, they supply its place with tallow, but seldom make 
cheese, and what little they do produce is very inferior. 
The trading ships supply them with meal, wine, beer, 
and other articles, amongst which coffee, and tobacco in 
the shape of snuff, are the principal luxuries. 

The dress of the Icelandic peasant resembles that of 
a conmion sailor, being a short jacket of blue, gray, or 
black home-made cloth, wide trousers of the same ma- 
terial, woollen stockings, and shoes or short boots of un- 
tanned leather, without heels, and laced in front. The 
higher classes are clothed as in other lands, and even 
the conmion people, when going on a long journey or to 
the church, approach nearer the fashion. The raiment 
of the females is more peculiar, and highly ornamented, 
though almost all formed of the wadmal or common 
cloth of the country. It consists of a red or black 
bodice, with stripes of yelvet covering the seams, and 
fastened in front with five or six silver clasps ; round 
the neck is a ruff of velvet, adorned in a similar man- 
ner ; above is the treya or jacket of black cloth, with 
silver buttons, and, above all, is the hempa, a black 
cloak lined with velvet, and fastened with clasps. The 
stockings are dark blue or red, and the shoes somewhat 
similar to those of the men. The head-dress is a fiEmtas- 
tic turban of white linen stiffened with pins, and gene- 
rally from fifteen to twenty inches high. It is round near 
the head, but soon becomes fiat, and curves first back-^ 
wards and then forwards. It is fastened by a black or 
coloured handkerchief bound roimd it several times; 
and on bridal or other high occasions, is also adorned 
with gold and silver. By the quantity of these precious 
metals on the dress, a judgment may be formed of the 
wealth and station of the proprietor^ the silver on that of 


a lady of rank being frequently worth 400 dollars. But 
with all this external magnificence, linen is almost un- 
known, the under-clothing of both sexes being chiefly 
flannel or wadmal, to which many of the diseases pre- 
valent in the country are ascribed.* 

The present houses of the Icelander difier little &om 
those used by their ancestors, who first colonized the 
island ; and though not according to our ideas of beauty 
or comfort, are probably the best fitted for the climate. 
They never exceed one stoiy in height, and as each 
room is in some measure separate from the others^ the 
buildings on a moderate-sized farm bear some resem- 
blance to a village. The walls are occasionally composed 
of driftwood, but oftener of stone or lava, having the in- 
terstices stuffed with moss br earth, and are about four 
feet high, by six in thickness. Instead of the usual rafters, 
the roof often consists of whale-ribs, which are more dur- 
able, covered with brushwood and tur^ producing good 
grass, which is carefully cut at the proper season. fVom 
the door a long passage extends to thebadstofa or principal 
room, the common sitting, eating, and sleeping apartment 
of the family. From the sides of the lobby, doors lead to 
other rooms used by the servants, or for kitchen and dairy. 
In the better class of houses, the walls of the principal 
chamber are wainscoted, and the windows glazed : but 
these luxuries are unknown in most, and the holes in 
the roof that admit the light are covered by a hoop, 
with the amnion of a sheep, or a piece of thin skin 
stretched over it. They have no chimneys or grate, the 
smoke escaping by a hole in the roof ; and there is no fire 
even in the coldest weather, except in the kitchen. The 
beds are merely open frames filled with seaweed, feathers, 
or down, over which is thrown two or three folds of 
wadmal, and a coverlet of divers colours. From the roof 
hang various articles of domestic economy ; the floor is 
generally nothing more than the damp earth ; and the 
only seats are the bones of a whale or a horse's skulL 

* Gliemaim, p. 127. Henderson, vol. i. p. 124-126. 


To a stranger, however, the filth and smell are the most 
disagreeahle accompaniments of an Icelandic habitation, 
and contribute not a little to the unhealthiness of the 
inmates. It is but seldom that the traveller meets a dwell* 
ing a little larger, more airy and better built, belonging 
to some rich pe&ant, who tries to combine convenience 
and neatness with the solid structures of bis ancestors.* 
The houses are usually surrounded by several others 
for the cows, horses, and fuel, though these frequently 
open from the common lobby ; and also by numerous 
ricks of hay covered with turf and stones, which closely 
resemble the former, and increase the apparent extent 
of the buildings. In the neighbourhood we also com- 
monly find several plots of ground, enclosed with earthen 
walls, for producing hay, and named tuun by the natives, 
on the fertility of which the goodness of the farm and the 
prosperity of its tenant depend.t 

In the first chapter we mentioned that the interior 
of the country is entirely uninhabited, the population 
being chiefly confined to the vicinity of the coasts and 
fiords. Of the thirty-eight thousand square miles of 
which the island consists, only a ninth p^ is inhabited, 
and even over this the houses are very widely scattered, 
with many bleak and dreary intervals, so that man and 
his dwellings seem like something foreign to the land. 
The hamlets are always so inconsiderable that they 
never become the principal object in the landscape, and 
even the commercial towns seem lost amid the rocky 
defiles in which they are placed. Assuming the popu- 
lation at 60,000, which it has rarely exceeded, the aver- 
age will be about 1^ to the square mile, and if we exclude 
the central deserts, rather more than seven, that is, 
about a third of the number found in the thinnest inha- 
bited of our Highland counties. 

• Olafsen's Reise, th. i. p. 173. Von Troil, pp. 99, 100. Hen- 
derson, vol. i. p. 75. Marmier, p. 15. 
•f Gliemann, p. 127. 


Although it has frequently heen affirmed, we have no 
reason to helieve that the inhahitants of the island ever 
much exceeded their present numhers. Though during 
the last two centuries famine and pestilence have fre- 
quently desolated the land, yet the population soon re- 
oovercdy and no age seems to have he^n exempt &om 
similar misfortunes. Some districts have undouhtedly 
been rendered uninhabitable by the encroachments of the 
jokuls and the accumulation of lava or volcanic sand, 
but these are comparatively of little moment, as the 
people are more dependent on the water than the 
land for food, and have probably been compensated by 
the increase of foreign commerce. No authentic monu- 
ments remain by which this question can be decided ; 
the only ancient enumeration of the people being that 
made by Bishop Gyssur of Skalholt in 1090, which 
gives the number of farmers at 4000, omitting all the 
poorer classes. The round numbers of this calculation 
seem unfavourable to the idea of an actual enumeration, 
but reckoning eight to a family, which is the present 
average, it amounts to 32,000, to which when we add 
those omitted as not paying tribute, the whole would 
approach the largest census of our own day. The 
certain information commences with 1703, when it 
amounted to 50,444 ; but four years afterwards, nearly 
18,000 persons having perished by the small-pox, it 
was reduced to 34,000. In 1750 it had again risen to 
50,700, falling in 1769 to 46,201, and increasing in 1778 
to 50,212, from which time it continued decreasing till 
the beginning of this century, being 47,287 in 1783, 
47,207 in 1801, and 46,349 in 1804. From that time it 
appears to liave increased, being 48,063 in 1808, 48,551 
in 1821, 49,269 in 1823, and, in February 1834, 56,034. 
The lists of 1801 are those which enter into the fiillest 
details, and present the following results : — Of the popu- 
lation 21,476 were males and 25,731 females, or in the 
proportion of thirteen to fifteen. The average marriages 
in ten years were 250, or one in 188 of the population, 
the births 1350, or one in thirty-five, and the deaths 


1250, or one in thirty-seven, leaving an excess of one 
hundred hirths. The births were to the marriages as 
twenty-seven to five, or rather more than five children 
to each &mily, whilst they were to the deaths as 
twenty-seven to twenty-five. Of the children bom, a 
hundred and fifty, or one in nine, were illegitimate, 
forty-five, or one in thirty, still-bom, and thirty, or 
fifteen pairs, were twins. 

In 1821, the population, according to Stephensen, 
amounted to 48,551, an increase of 1344 in twenty 
years. The births were 1464 and the deaths 1629, ex- 
ceeding the former by 165. In that year 320 couples 
were married, sixty children, or one in about twenty- 
five, were still-bom, and 199, or one in seven, illegiti- 
mate, which was less than the former or succeeding 
years, when it was one in six. In 1822 the deaths were 
841 and the births 1724, being an increase of 883.* 

According to Barrow, whose statements chiefly refer 
to 1832, the population in that year was 53,000, and 
the deaths 1390, or one in thirty-eight, of which 859 
were under ten years of age, or nearly six-tenths of 
the whole ; the births were 2516, or 1126 more than 
the deaths, and of these seventy-five were still-bom, 
and 383, or one in seven, illegitimate. The families 
amount to four, six, or sometimes more, and the men 
usually marry at jfrom twenty-four to thirty-two years 
of age, the females from nineteen to thirty .t 

The frequent vicissitudes in the Icelandic population 
arise from the small number of the people, and from 
their being all exposed to the efiects of the same 
accidents by the uniformity of their employments 
and mode of subsistence. The circumstances which 
exercise an unfavourable influence on one part of the 
inhabitants extend to all alike; and the injury sus- 

* Hassel's Erdbeschreibung, vol. x. p. 229. Gliemann, pp. 122, 
123. Islandische Zeitang, Nos. 7 and 8. 
f Burrow's Visit to Iceland, p. 284-287. 


tained by one class of the community^ from deficiency 
in their fisheries or flocks, is shared by every other. 
In 1801 more than a fourth of the population were 
under ten years of age, and we have seen from the 
statements just given that a large proportion of the 
deaths happen at this period of life. The celebrated 
physician Callisen ascribes this mortality to the unna- 
tural conduct of the mothers, who of late have given 
their Infants to nurses who bring them up on cow's milk. 
After passing this period the Icelanders in general, espe- 
cially the females, attain a tolerably old age. About a 
fifth of the population reach fifty years of age, a ninth 
sixty, and rather more than one in a hundred eighty, 
whilst only one in 1154 exceeds ninety years of age. 
The most prevalent disease is asthma, which is said to 
prove fatal to every twenty-fifth person ; whilst about 
the same proportion are cut off by violent accidents, 
most of these being drovmed when fishing, while others 
are frozen to death or lost in snow-storms. Catarrhs 
and nervous or inflammatory fevers, which often be- 
come epidemic, are also very fiital. Scorbutic and other 
affections of the skin are, as might be expected from 
the food and habits of the people, extremely conunon. 
Leprosy is also known, especially in that most horrible 
form of which the character is best expressed by its 
name of likthra, meaning a putrefying corpse. Some 
authors say that it was brought to Iceland by the Cru- 
saders, but it seems to differ from that described in the 
Bible, and also from the species met with in Greenland. 
It has with much probability been ascribed to the use 
of half-putrid fish, an opinion which is confirmed by 
its disappearance from Faroe, where it was formerly 
frequent, since the inhabitants applied themselves more 
to agriculture. Besides the usual diseases of children 
is one called ginklofe (tetanus or trihmus neofanoTum)y 
which destroys every infant bom in the Westmanna 
Islands. Another complaint peculiar to a particular 
place is a kind of dropsy ending in scurvy, which attacks 


all new settlers in Grimsey, and proves fatal unless they 
are removed immediately to the mainland.* 

As already mentioned, the people are principally en- 
gaged in the fisheries or the feeding of cattle, and most 
of them alternately in hoth, so that it is impossible to 
ascertain the numbers supported by either exclusively. 
In 1804, there were 208 boats, with eight or ten rowers to 
each, 1068 with four to six rowers, and 887 of a smaller 
size, employed in the fishery. Along with this the na- 
tives of the coast hunt seals for their skins and oil, and 
in some places catch the seafowl that crowd the clifis 
and rocky islets on the shore. The latter principally 
happens at the time when the birds are breeding, during 
which many live almost exclusively on their flesh and 
eggs, whilst their feathers are chiefly exported. Agri- 
culture cannot be said to exist, and there are only a~bout 
three hundred gardens in the whole island. The land, 
including what belongs to the king and the church, 
was, in 1695, divided into 4059 farms, of which 718 were 
the property of the crown, 1474 of the clergy, 1847 were 
in the possession of private persons, whilst 20 were ap- 
propriated to the support of charitable institutions. 
Since then, the number of farms has increased to about 
6000, and several of those formerly belonging to the 
sovereign or the clergy have been alienated to private 
individuals. At the death of a father, the property is 
generally divided among all his children, tiiough the 
land is often retained by one, who pays the portions of 
the others. The common size of the farms is what is 
called twenty hundreds, worth from three to four hun- 
dred dollars, and calculated to feed about six cows, eight 
horses, and eighty sheep. The peasants are in general 
either proprietors or pay a rent in kind, according to an 
old valuation; and tenants are never removed unless 
where they are justly chargeable with neglect. Many 

* Callisen's Physisk Med. Beskriv. vol. ii. p. 237. Gliemann, 
pp. 21, 23, 124. Barrow, p. *i94. In 1822, ninety-six children 
died of the angina polyposa alone. 


of the farmers hire seryants, whose wages vary ftom ten 
to twelve dollars annually, with their food, and they 
are usually treated like the rest of the &mily. In 1783, 
the live stock on the island was 36,408 horses, 21,457 
homed cattle, and 232,731 sheep; in 1804 it had 
decreased to 26,524 horses, 20,325 homed cattle, and 
218,818 sheep ; whilst in 1832, according to the state- 
ments of Mr Barrow, there were above 50,000 horsey 
nearly 40,000 cattle, and 500,000 sheep.* 

Properly speaking, there are neither trades nor manuiac- 
tures in the coxmtry, everything being prepared at home. 
There the cloth, or wadmal, as it is called, is spun, woven, 
dyed, and fulled by the people themselves, the last process 
being at once curious and original. Both ends being 
knocked out of a barrel, it is filled with the cloth or 
other articles, and turned over on its side ; when two men 
then lying down on their backs, literally waOe them by 
kicking against each other. Every feu^er is his own 
carpenter and smith, though it not unfrequently happens 
that the clergyman, by his superior skill, monopolizes 
the trade of shoeing horses. Some of the peasants dis- 
play considerable neatness and ingenuity in manu&o- 
turing small articles of jewellery, which are purchased 
by the wives of the moi'e affluent inhabitants. In the 
West Fiords, many of the natives employ their leisure 
hours in cutting the drift-wood into various utensils^ 
which are distributed over the whole land. Knitting 
stockings and mittens, or gloves without fingers, is the 
common occupation of the women, and besides what are 
used at home, several thousand pairs of each are exported 

From the beginning of the seventeenth century down 
to 1776 the commerce of Iceland was monopolized by a 
Danish company, who, as might be expected, grievously 
oppressed the natives. In consequence of this they were 
deprived of their privilege, and during the next ten years 

* Von Troil, p. 40. Hassel, vol. x. p. 225. Barrow, pp. 280, 
281, 283, 291. 


it was conducted in the name of the king himself, on a 
fund of four millions of rix-dollars. In 1787, it was 
permitted to all Danish suhjects to trade with Iceland ; 
and in 1816 the same liberty was also conferred on 
foreigners, who were only required to procure a license. 
Many arrangements favourable to the inhabitants have 
of late been introduced, such as the establishment of an- 
nual fairs, posts, and packet-boats. The island is divided 
into four commercial districts,— Reikiavik, Eske Fiord, 
Eya Fiord, and Isa Fiord, — ^but the merchant-ships arriv- 
ing in one are not allowed to go to another. The trade is 
mostly carried on by the Danes, though a few British and 
Norwegian vessels sometimes pay them a visit. In 1791, 
there entered from Copenhagen and other Danish ports 
about sixty sail, amounting to 2289^ tons burden, but 
during the war this trade was almost annihilated, and 
the natives^ notwithstanding the generous forbearance of 
the British government, were reduced to great straits. In 
1809, not more than ten ships arrived, but since that 
period commerce has again revived, and now, on an aver- 
age, about fifty vessels, of from 100 to 150 tons burden, 
repair thither in the course of the season.* 

The principal articles exported by the Icelanders have 
always been the produce of their flocks and waters, the 
unfruitful soil and severe dunate not being compensated, 
as in Scandinavia, by any mineral treasures. Salted fish of 
various kinds, shark and cod oil, tallow, wool and woollen 
goods, sheep-skins, and eider-down, are the chief commo- 
dities. The imports, on the other hand, are rye and rye- 
meal, pease, barley, salt, brandy, iron, tar, and small 
quantities of colonial produce, with fishing-lines and 
cables. We have not seen any recent tables of the ex- 
ports and imports of the island, but the following are 
interesting, as showing the gradual progress of the 
nation in industry and comfort : — 

* Hassel, vol. x. p. 226. Mackenzie, p. 334-339. 







Ej^dKj8-ini*l tarrd! 

Part-bulej '. dt 
Hnindy . . do. 

^' . . . Z'X 

tr ■ . ■ . ^'t^r,: 

fl.hlnH-liua . piEHH 
Tobacco , .kfppuDd. 








r!i^ ■.""r'- 



The Tetnms for 1806, it muBt be recollected, are mora 
un&Tonrable to the country than they ought to he, a» 
commerce waa then extremely depressed, owing to Hu 
war on the continent, which prevented the regular orrinl 
of ehipa irom Denmark, and produced many privatiom 
amon)( the inhabitants. 

Iceland foims a province of the Danish kingdom, 
although it ia not considered as a part of it, but rather 
as an allied «tate. The king rules over it with complete 
Bovereignty, the last remnant of the popular power shown 
in the annual asaembliee at Thingvijla having, bb for- 
merly stated, been abolished in 1800. At the head of the 
civil administration h the governor or stiftaamtmami, 
eometimes a native of the island, though ot^ner a Dane, 
who conducts all public afinirs, preudes in the supreme 
court of justice, watches over the execution of the law% 


the collecting and expenditure of the public revenue, 
and along with the bishop directs the school and appoints 
the oleigy. He continues in office five years, with 
a salary of about £800 per annum, and is entitled to 
promotion on his return to Denmark. Under him are 
the amtmen, of whom there ought to be four, but as the 
governor holds this office in the southern province, and 
the northern and eastern are united, there arc only two 
others. These have the superintendence of the inferior 
officers, and nearly the some duties in their province as 
the governor exercises in relation to the whole island. 
Subordinate to them are the sysselmen or sheriff, 
nineteen in number, who are empowered to hold courts, 
appoint justices of the peace and notaries, and to ad- 
minister the laws concerning inheritances. They are 
chosen by the crown from among the principal pro- 
prietors in the district. Under these are the hreppstiorar 
or bailiffs, who assist the sheriff in preserving the peace 
and public order, and have at the same time the charge 
of the poor. 

All causes, civil and criminal, come in the first in- 
stance before the sysselman in the Heradsthing, one of 
which is held regularly once in twelve months, though 
extraordinary sessions are also called. This court consists 
of t&e sheriff as judge, with four assistants, named med- 
dcnmsmen. The landfoged or steward, who is receiver- 
^eral of the island and police-master of Heikiavik, 
holds a similar court in that town. From their decision 
there is an appeal to the highest tribunal, instituted in 
1800, on the suppression of the Althing, and which 
consists of the governor as president, who takes no part 
in the proceedings, a chief-justice, two assessors, a secre- 
taiy, and two public pleaders. Cases are here decided 
according to the native laws, or Jonsbok, introduced in 
1280, and the later royal ordinances ; and from their 
judgment the last appeal lies to the supreme court of 
Copenhagen. The high moral character of the people 
Tenders the last court nearly a sinecure, not more than 
six or e%ht cases, public or private, occurring annually. 



The crimes are mostly sheep>stealing and small thefts^ 
and the only punishments inflicted in the country are 
whipping or fines. Those condemned to hard labour are 
sent to Copenhagen; and a peasant, being capitally 
convicted many years ago of murdering his wife, it was 
found necessary to carry him to Norway for execution. 
The taxes collected in the island being very incon- 
siderable, impose little burthen on the inhabitants. 
They are principally levied on property according to 
several old customs ; and payment is chiefly made in 
produce of various kinds, which is converted into money 
by the sysselman, and transmitted, after deducting a 
third for his own salary, to the landfoged or treasurer. 
The whole amount does not exceed 50,000 rix-doUars. 
and does not even sufiice for the support of the civil 
government of the island.* 

In the historical chapters we have mentioned the 
principal events connected with the religious 8tat« of the 
country in former times. Christianity, we have seen, 
was introduced in the year 1000, and though combined 
with the superstitions of the age, had a very beneficial 
influence on the manners of the people. Catholicism 
was suppressed after a rule of 500 years, and the Lu- 
theran church has since that period been the established 
form. The inferior divisions of parishes appear not to have 
been altered from the earliest periods ; but the bishops^ 
sees, of which there were formerly two, were united in 
1801, partly at the recommendation of some of the 
natives, and partly for economy, and to promote unity 
in the ecclesiastical government. The whole island was 
then placed under one, whose residence is usually at 
Keikiavik, though the present bishop has his house at 
Langanes. Besides the usual episcopal duties, he, in 
conjunction with the governor, fills up almost all the 
vacant parishes, the distance preventing application from 

• Hassel, vol. x. p. 231-233. Mackenzie, p. 312-323. Hen- 
derson, vol. i. p. xzvi. Barrow, pp. 293, 305. 


being made to the government at Copenhagen. Only 
aix of the best are reserved for the royal presentation, in 
the others, the bishop names them firat, and this is con- 
firmed by the governor, who, being a foreigner, usually 
trusts entirely to his recommendation. Under him are 
nineteen provosts or deans, whose duty it is, as their 
superior cannot visit more than half the island in a 
summer, to send him an account of their districts, and take 
charge of the moral and religious character of the theolo- 
gical students residing in them. The parish ministers 
perform divine service according to a ritual, which is a 
translation of the Danish liturgy, and as many of them 
have two churches, preach in them on alternate Sun- 
days. The number of parochial clergy is 184, but several 
of them have ordained assistants, which raises the total 
amount to 216. These have to supply 305 churches, and 
a population of 50,000, scattered over 4000 or 5000 square 
miles. There are thus 27 square miles, and 272 inha- 
bitants to each parish, 231 individuals to each cleigy- 
man, and 164 to each church. The bishop is the only 
one of the clergy paid in money, the remainder being 
supported by the produce of their glebes, by tithes rated 
according to a fixed valuation, and church ofiPerings from 
their parishioners ; all of which, in many cases^ do not 
secure them an income equal to that of a common peasant. 
According to Dr Holland, the whole revenue of the 
clergy, exclusive of the bishop, is only 6400 specie dol- 
lars, or less than thirty-five (about £6) to each parish. 

The character of the priestliood is marked by all the 
national lineaments, few of them having ever left the 
island. They are only distinguished from the body of 
the people by superior information, which, however, is 
less the case there than in other countries, many of the 
peasants having obtained the same education with their 
ministers, and all making some pretensions to learning. 
The Icelander pays little deference to his pastor on ac- 
count of his office, and unless his personal character 
secures respect, he h soon treated like a common peasant, 
in whose labours he is often compelled to join. Unable 


to subsist on his wretched income, the priest must toil 
for his food like the poorest inhabitant of his parish, 
eultiyating his farm, shoeing horses, or fishing. Six 
days of the week he is a farmer or mechanic, and it is 
only on the Sabbath that he can appear in his proper 
chapter. In consequence ^ of this manner of life, he 
soon imfortunately beooiii^ assimilated to thoee who 
form his constant associates. To this we must add, 
that the clergy, according to the &shion of the coun- 
try, not only Uve the whole year in rooms without 
fires, but must oftener than others undertake long 
journeys, during which, in winter, their lives are fr^ 
quently endangered in crossing the half-frozen riyem 
amidst ipe and snow. On these occasions, the only re- 
freshment they can carry with them is brandy, and 
nothing dse is ever offered them on entering a house. 
From this arises the vice of drunkenness, which is said to 
be so frequent amongst them, that m recommending 
one to the bishop or governor, sobriety is thought the 
highest character. Many are habitually intoxicated, 
even when performing public worship, and few scruple 
to exceed the bounds of temperance when visiting the 
towns or at festivities. Yet such is the strangely mingled 
character of the people, that even the worst of these 
seldom fail to perform their duties with becoming earnest- 
ness and solemnity.* 

The education of the clergy differs little from that 
of the other inhabitants, the elementary portion being 

* This unfavourable character of the Icelandic clergy is giren by 
an author who, having visited the island, and from inquiries among 
the students v^ho frequent the University of Copenhagen, ought to 
have had the best opportunities of knowing the truth. As, how- 
ever, only 1000 barrels of brandy are imported annually, which is 
about two bottles to each individual, it is to be hoped that the pic- 
ture is at most only partially correct. This author neard that one of 
the deans being offered a glass of wine by the governor, refused it, 
saying that he drank nothing but brandy. Uheinwald's Reper- 
torium fur die theol. Lit. und kirchliche Statistik (Berlin, 1833), 
▼ol. i. p. 190. Marmier however (Lettre ii. p. 61) gives the same 
view, both as to causes and effects. 


conducted at home, and the course generally completed 
either hy private study or at the school of Bessestad. 
This, now the only one in the country, was formed 
by the union of the two established at Skalholt and 
Holum by the first incumbents of these sees. At the Re- 
formation, it was proposed to found one for every mo- 
nastery that was suppressed, but this patriotic intention 
was not carried into effect, and the two already men- 
tioned continued the only ones. These, being considered 
as theological seminaries, were imder the especial charge 
of the bishops, the poorest scholars being wholly, the 
others partially, supported from the funds attached to 
the churches. After the union of the bishoprics, the 
schools were also conjoined and transferred to Reik- 
iavik, -where it continued from 1802 to 1806. At 
this time the scholars, instead of being supported as 
formerly, received money, and were required to board 
themselves among the inhabitants of the town. But 
this not having the best efiPects on their morals, the in- 
stitution was removed to the present place, where 
there is a large stone building for lodgings, and a wooden 
one for school-rooms. The students, mostly peasants^ 
sons, are from forty to fifty in number, and reside 
there eight months every year, going home from the 
beginning of May to the end of September to assist in 
the rural labours. They are generally sixteen years 
old when they enter the school, and on the completion 
of the course return to their parents. The teachers 
consist of a rector and three assistants, and the instruc- 
tion given comprises theology, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, 
Icelandic, Danish, history, geography, and mathematics. 
The importance of this institution is shown by the fact, 
that in it all the civil and religious authorities obtain 
their whole education, with the exception of the few 
who, after completing their professional studies in 
private, are admitted as preachers by the bishop and 
rector of the school, and a few others who travel to the 
university of Copenhagen. Though during their four 
years' course in the capital they have free lodging and a 


larger allowance of money than other students, yet few 
ayail themselves of this privilege. Seldom more than 
four, and in some years none, leave their native land in 
pursuit of instruction, and these find their foreign accent 
and peculiar appearance much in the way of turning their 
information to accoimt. 

To the estahlishment at Bessestad there is attached a 
lihrary, consisting principally of theological works in 
the Danish and Grerman languages. There are besides 
a great number of Icelandic books, a few English and 
French, with some good editions of the classics ; in all 
about 1600 volumes. 

On leaving this institution, the scholars are expected 
to pursue their studies at home, where most of them 
are obliged by poverty to take a :^11 share in the labours 
of their relations. When considered qualified, they 
are licensed by the bishop to preach, and await the 
occurrence of vacancies, which may aiford them a place 
of final settlement. But the attainment of this object 
does not free them from their former active life, nor 
aiford them that leisure which might seem necessary 
for continuing any literary pursuit. Compelled to 
take up their abode in some solitary spot, far from all 
intercourse with congenial spirits, they are apparently 
deprived both of the means and motives for mental 
cultivation. No stronger instance of that inherent 
activity of the human mind, which makes idleness the 
greatest of evils, can be produced than the number of 
Icelandic clergymen who, amidst all discouragements, 
continue labouring at works which they can hardly con- 
ceive will ever see the light, or procure to them either pro- 
fit or fame. The long continuance of winter may partly 
account for this fact, there being no other means left of 
escaping the weariness of the protracted gloom ; but it 
is principally to be ascribed to the peculiar mental con- 
stitution and habits of the nation. 

The literature of Iceland is greatly indebted to the 
clergy, most of the recent authors belonging to that 
body. Theology may thus be expected to attract a 


considerable number of writers, and we find that, ever 
since the Eeformation, many works on this subject 
have continued to appear, and still more are known 
only in manuscript. Among the older books of this 
kind, we find distiaguished the sacred poetry of Hal- 
grim Petersen, the simple, touching, and Christian senti- 
ments of which, expressed in language poetical yet easily 
understood, fits them well for what they were intended. 
At a later period flourished the learned and pious Jon 
VidaHn, bishop of Skalholt, whose memory is yet held in 
reverence by his countrymen. His homilies (Postille) 
for every Sunday and festival in the year were published 
in 1718, and, wiUi the works already mentioned, Luther's 
catechism, and an old hymn-book (Grallari, or Gradual), 
were the only religious reading of the great body of the 
people. Vidalin's is, in all respects, a remarkable work, 
of which it has been well said, that it is difficult to con- 
ceive one better fitted for the nation. He expresses the 
Christian doctrine in classical language, and in a lively 
manner, though without much feeling, which is not 
well adapted to the cold reasoning minds of his readers. 
The work is adorned with numerous quotations from 
the Scripture, and, notwithstanding all the changes 
in public opinion, still retains its place in most of 
the cottages of the land. A few years ago the eleventh 
edition was published by four young Icelanders, and the 
number of subscribers amounted to 1600, which is very 
large when we consider the small amount of the popula- 
tion. Amongst the higher classes, the two volumes of 
sermons published by Ami Helgason, who belongs to 
the new school of theology, have in some measure taken 
the place of Vidalin's. The other writings of this class 
are mostly commentaries on particular parts of Scrip- 
ture, and collections, of prayers, homilies, or sermons, 
though none of them have acquired sufficient celebrity 
to merit any particular notice. 

Besides numerous poetical paraphrases of particular 
parts of the Scriptures, the Icelanders possess two com- 
plete versions. The first of these, as we have already 


xnentioned, was translated from tlie German of Luther by 
Gudbrand Thorlakson, bishop of Holnm, and pnblisii^ 
in 1584. About sixty years afterwards, a new trans- 
lation, chiefly by Bishop Sknlasson, conformable to the 
Danish Bible of Resenius, appeared under the imme- 
diate patronage of the King of Denmark. No impres- 
sion of either of these having been published for a long 
time, Bibles in the beginning of the present centuiy 
began to be very scarce ; to remedy which evil, the 
English Bible Society printed an edition, and sent Dr 
Henderson to the island to ensure a proper distribution 
of the copies. A new version of the New Testament 
has lately been printed at Videy, but, having been pre- 
pared by different individuals, it presents a great want 
of imiformity, not merely in style, but in other more 
essential points. A translation of the Introduction to 
the New Testament by Rasmus Moller, bishop of Laa- 
land, has also been recently published.* 

The study of the classical languages is very general 
in Iceland, and the traveller is often surprised to find 
men in the humblest ranks of society able to converse 
with him in Latin. Many of the writings of the natives 
are composed in this language, especially their historical 
works, which thus acquire a wider circulation than they 
could expect in their own tongue. It forms a principal 
part of the education of the clergy, who are expected to 
speak and write it correctly, and in it many of them 

• Rheinwald's Repert. vol. i. pp. 190, 207. Dr Henderson, 
vrhen in Iceland in 1814, expressed his respret at the spreading of 
German neology amongst the clergy, and ascribed to it a very 
prejudicial influence on the character of the people. These opinions 
were first introduced about the banning of tne present century 
by the students who attended the Danish universities. Since then 
they have found their way into the school of Bessestad, and are 
adopted by most of the younger ministers. The present bishop 
was formerly one of their adherents, but is said to have now re- 
turned to the old faith. It is singular that these opinions, affecting 
the most essential points of Christianity, should have excited little 
attention and' no controversy in the island ; a circumstance which 
marks a spirit of great indifference as formerly existing in regard 
to religious questions. 


compose poems^ chiefly descriptive or epigrammatic^ 
and indalge that tendency to personal satire which 
it formerly required the power of the laws to check. 
Greek is also cultivated, and translations from this lan- 
guage have appeared both in prose and verse. A know- 
ledge of Hebrew is exacted from all the students at 
Bessestad, but the examinations are often merely a form^ 
though some of the clergy are said to possess a con- 
siderable knowledge of it. Numerous philological 
works, mostly connected with the northern dialects, 
have been published from time to time ; and others of 
great value in manuscript are found both in Iceland and 
Denmark.* Modem languages are frequently acquired ; 
and besides the Danish, with which all the higher classes 
are familiar, many understand the Grerman, English, and 

Abstract studies are by no means popular among the 
Icelanders, and few works on metaphysics or mathe* 
niatical subjects have appeared. Their peculiar disposi- 
tion leads them rather to hold converse with the facts of 
the external world ; and on this account natural history 
has many more votaries than any other branch of science, 
the wonderful phenomena around them being fitted to 
arrest the notice of even a more inattentive race of men. 
Eggert Olafsen, to whose labours we have so often been 
indebted, is one of the most distinguished in this class of 
Btudents, and in his travels almost all the remarkable 
appearances in the country are noticed. This work, 
which is the joint production of him and of his friend 
Biame Povelsen, is still the most complete account of 
the natural history and social condition of the island ; 
and its value is not a little increased by the thorough 

* As an instance of these we may mention an Icelandic- Latin 
dietionarjr which Dr Schieving, teacher of Latin at Bessestad, has 
been employed in preparing for the last twenty yean, in which he 
illastrates the meanings of the words by quotations from the native 
authors. The materials he has accumulated are immense, yet be 
ttill continues to labour. The best dictionary of this language is 
that of Haldorson, published by Rask (2 vols 4to, Copenhagen, 
1814), which is, however, very defective. 


knowledge possessed by the authors of the ancient annals 
and literature of the country. But its confused arrange- 
ment, and the want of a proper scientific nomenclatiu^, 
detract much from its utility, and have prevented it fix)m 
ever becoming popular.* Many other minor pieces on 
this subject, especially descriptions of the volcanic phe- 
nomena, have appeared. 

The Icelanders more than any other nation stand 
in close connexion with the past, preserving accurate 
genealogical registers, and realizing to themselves shame 
or glory in the deeds of their ancestors. This love of 
antiquity, added to their acuteness of observation and 
imquenchable curiosity, fit them at once for reading and 
writing history. There is probably no people amongst 
whom an equal knowledge, both of domestic and foreign 
events, is to be found. This circumstance, which strikes 
every stranger who sets foot upon the island, marks 
them as the historians of Europe ; for which task their 
remote situation seems to secure the most perfect im- 
partiality, whilst their highly cultivated and expressive 
language is peculiarly adapted to it. We have in a 
former chapter noticed the ancient authors who dis- 
tinguished themselves in this branch of study, and have 
only to add, that it ha;s not been neglected in modem 
times. Among the writers of the last century the 
names of Torfsus, Ame Magnusen, and Bishop Finn- 
sen, stand pre-eminent. His learned and accurate re- 
searches in Norwegian and Danish history have gained 
the first a European reputatlon.t Ame Magnusen 
was the great means of recalling attention to the literary 
monuments of his coimtry, and by his munificent col- 
lections, and the society which bears his name, has pre- 

* As specimens of his names for rocks we may quote Scunm 
arenariomicaceum and Saxum ochraceoargillosum rubrum, even 
common turf is translated into the Latin, Humus bituminosa 
solida acre indurescens, 

t Among his works we may mention his Series Dynastormn et 
Regum Daniee (4to, 1702), Historia rerum Norve^carum (4 vols 
fol. 1711), Historia Faroensium, Groenlandia Antiqua, Vinlandia 
Antiqua, &c. most of them published at Copenhagen. 


served many of them from destruction. Bishop Finnsen 
is chiefly celebrated for the ecclesiastical annals of his 
native island, and for his labours in editing several of 
the old authors. Amongst the writers of the present 
day Chief-Justice Stephensen holds an honourable rank ; 
and his history of Iceland during the last century is 
filled with the most valuable information regarding its 
civil condition and literature. He also at one time 
published annually a kind of political register of the 
principal events that had occurred in Europe during the 
preceding year. A somewhat similar periodical, com- 
posed and printed at Copenhagen by one of his country- 
men residing there, conveys to the reader every spring 
and harvest an account of the political occurrences of 
the great world. It consists principally of extracts 
translated from the newspapers, and arranged so as to 
form an historical summary of events. 

Poetry has not in modem times retained that place 
in the literature of the island which was formerly award- 
ed to it. The melancholy disposition of the nation, and 
that turn of mind by which they are led rather to 
converse with the external world than with the internal, 
is unfavourable to poetic composition. Hardship and 
misfortime have dulled the ear to the harmony of sound, 
and poetry, like music, is now seldom heard in their 
land. But to this there are honourable exceptions, and 
amidst such a mass of literature we find some works 
of this class. Among its votaries we may mention the 
venerable John Thorlakson, who, besides many original 
poems, translated the Paradise Lost of Milton into Ed- 
daic verse. In his small dark closet in a remote district, 
amidst poverty and labour, this work was completed, 
with little hope that it would ever be published ; the 
whole income of his two parishes being only about six 
poimds per annum, from which he had to pay an assistant. 
Yet the merits of this poem, produced under such dis- 
couraging circumstances, are by all allowed to be very 
great, though rather those of a paraphrase or an original 
poem than of a translation. It is in the measure of the 


y oluspa and other old poems of Ssmund's Edda, of which 
he was a complete master, though its short and hroken 
lines seem very imlike the lofty measured strains of the 
original.* Besides this he also translated Pope's Essay 
on Man, which was published in Iceland, and Henderson 
&und him, when upwards of seventy, occupied, notwith- 
standing his increa»ng infirmities, in translating Klop- 
stock's Messiah. He died in 1819, having shortly before 
received a present from the Literary Fund in London, 
too late, it is to be feared, to alleviate the poverty which 
pursued him all his life. Of other recent poets we can 
only name Benedict Groendal, Sigurd Petersen, and the 
well-known Finn Magnusen. But the poetry of this 
ingenious people is rendered still more scanty by the al- 
most utter impossibility of the authors publishing theit 
works, as the readers are too few and too poor to defray 
even the expense of printing and paper. 

The literary character of the Icelanders of the pre- 
sent day does not, however, depend so much on the 
&me of individual works or authors, as on the universal 
diffusion of a taste for such studies throughout the whole 
mass of the population. This interesting feature in 
the national character was noticed in a former part of 
this chapter, when describing the life and manners of the 
natives. It probably originated in those circumstances 
which called forth the historic sagas of the first period, 

* The first three books of this poem were printed in the last 
three volumes of the pablications of the Icelandic Literary Society. 
The remainder was only known in manuscript till 1828, when it 
was published at Copenhagen by Mr Heath. Finn Magnusen 
composed in Icelandic and English a poem of thanks, in the name 
of the Icelandic Literary Society, in the measure of the original, 
the following verses from which will give the reader a clearer idea 
of its peculiar structure : — 

" Bodily sights, 
Baleful darkness, 
Sharpeneth the eyes 
Of shining soul ; 
The Genius saw 
God on his throne, 
He saw what we 
But see in picture r-^ 

Angels, demons, 
And their strife. 
Heaven and hell, 
Honour and shame. 
Earth's creation, 
Eden's bliss, 
First of men. 

Fallen, redeemed. | The song expires." 

Milton sang 

This roatchless chant. 

Praise of God 

And Paradise, 

Mundane Epos, 

Fall of man. 

Not with suns 


and has been preserved by the peculiar condition of the 
inhabitants. Their manner of life and the climate of 
their country leave them much leisure time, whilst the 
wide distribution of the inhabitants precludes all social 
meetings, and compels every family to trust to its own 
resources for amusement during the long winter nights. 
But their still and contemplative disposition, almost ap- 
proaching to apathy, disinclines them to all the lighter 
and more stirring amusements, and turns their atten- 
tion to those that are sedentary and intellectual. Hence 
chess and draughts are greater favourites than music 
or the dance ; and reading, which appears to combine 
utility with pleasure, is preferred to all other relaxa- 
tions. An easy and abundant source of amusement 
is thus supplied to relieve the tedium of the dark 
season, till summer again calls them forth to enjoy the 
green fields and the warm sun. There is another cir- 
cumstance almost peculiar to this country which must 
powerfully confirm this direction of the national mind. 
The traditional lore transmitted fix>m sire to son in the 
rudest hamlet of the island, is the literature also of the 
wise and learned. The simple strain that hushes the 
in&nt in its cradle is some firagment of a skaldic lay 
sung to heroes in the battlefield or the prince's hall ; 
and the nursery tale is but the rude outline of the people's 
histoiy, the daring deeds or perilous adventures of the 
nation's founders. To these worthies of a former age 
most of the present natives can in one way or another 
trace their pedigree, and family pride thus gives these 
tales a deeper interest. When to this we add that the 
language of the oldest sagas is quite intelligible to the 
least educated person in the present day, so that they can 
read with equal pleasure the most ancient and the most 
recent writings of their countr3anen, it need not excite 
astonishment to find these studies ardently pursued by 
all classes of the community. 



Description of Greenland. 

Opinions of the Ancients — Form and Position — Coasts — Hill»— 
Interior — Fiords — Iceblinks and Icebergs — Currents and Tides- 
Springs — Rivers — Is Greenland a Continent ? — Climate — Tem- 
perature — Seasons — Aurora — Unequal Refraction. Topoora- 
PHY — ArcticHighlands — Diseolsland — Baal'sRiver — ^Frederick's 
Hope — Frobisher's Straits — Juliana's Hope— Sermesoak — Fred- 
ericksthal — Cape Farewell— East Coast — Graah's Voyage — 
Ivimiut — Taterat — Peculiar Appearance of the Natives — Nen- 
nortalik — Griffenfeldt's Island— Ekallumiut the Greenland Para> 
disc — Colberger Heide — Scoresby's Voyage — Gale Hamke's 
Land — Proof of its being inhabited— Jameson's Land — Traill 
Island — Situation of the Ancient Colonies. 

The darkness which for so many ages shrouded the 
northern regions of the earth, still hangs over a great 
portion of Greenland. The floating ice which constantly 
infests its shores and the surrounding ocean has always 
rendered discovery at once difficult and dangerous, whilst 
its inhospitahle climate and rugged surface have equally 
prevented travelling hy land. The eager search after 
the North-west Passage has also led most voyagers in 
recent times up Davis* Strait, and along the American 
coast. For these reasons, it is principally to the mis- 
sionaries, men whom an ardent desire to instruct and 
benefit their fellow-creatures has induced to brave the 
rigours of a polar climate, and, renouncing the plea- 
sures and conveniences of civilized life, to associate 
with the most degraded and repulsive savages, that we 


owe any increase of knowledge regarding these regions. 
Their accounts, however, are chiefly confined to a few 
detached points on the western coast, whilst the north 
and east are still but very partially known. Where our 
information is limited, &ncy is apt to be the most 
active, supplying from the stores of imagination the defi- 
ciencies of experience ; and hence the older geographers 
found in Greenland a last retreat for many fabulous 
localities no longer able to maintain their ground on the 
European continent. Thus, in the curious map of those 
hyperborean regions drawn by Sigurd Stephensen in 
1670, it is represented as extending almost to Norway 
and Russia or Biarmaland, and part of it called Riseland, 
we are informed, is peopled by Skrickfinna or homed 
giants ; to the eastwa^ of whom are others whose im- 
mense nails or claws have procured them the title of 
Klofinna ; and these are followed by a stiH more hideous 
race who inhabit Jotunheimar, as to whose personal 
peculiarities the author unfortunately leaves us in the 
dark. This opinion of the great extent of Greenland 
towards the east long prevailed, Spitzbergen being united 
to it by a continuous tract of land, and there is reason to 
believe that the island of Nova Zembla is the Jotunhei- 
mar of the map. Even at the present day, the northern 
portion continues almost unknown, and its coasts very 
imperfectly laid down in the charts, whilst the fact of its 
being completely disunited from the American continent 
has only been confirmed by the recent voyages of Ross 
and Parry.* 

As far as is known, Greenland approaches to the form 
of a triangle, the vertex of which is directed to the south, 

* TorfiBus Gronlandia Antiqua (Havnis, 1716), p. 21, tab. ii. 
24. Much of the confusion of ancient geographers regarding the 
northern countries appears to have been caused, by their imperfect 
methods of determining latitude. They seem to have been almost 
exclusively guided by the climate, and as this becomes more rigor- 
ous in the same latitudes towards the east, the countries in that 
quarter were generally carried far north of their true position. 
This also accounts for Iceland being often placed almost entirely 
withm the arctic circle. 


whilst its base is turned towards the pole. Its most 
southern extremity. Cape FareweU, the Omenarsorsoak 
of the natives, the Statenhook of the Dutch, is a lofty 
promontory visible far out at sea, situated in lat. 59^ 48'- 
N. and in long. 48° 54' W. from Greenwich. From this 
point the land widens, stretching on the one side in the 
direction of west-north-west, and on the other of east- 
north-east. The country southward of latitude 68° is 
called South Greenland, whilst the remainder is termed 
North Greenland. How far the latter may extend has 
never been determined : the ancient inhabitants beUeyed 
that it reached to the pole, and it is probable that even 
if the land terminates sooner, the fields of ice continue 
to that point. The interior of the southern portion is 
equally unknown ; inaccessible mountains and deep ra- 
vines, filled with eternal ice, forming an insurmountable 
barrier against all attempts to explore this desolate region. 
Our information is thus confined to a narrow strip idong 
the shore, chiefly in the vicinity of the Danish colonies. 
Whilst the boundaries are so undefined, it must be im- 
possible to estimate its magnitude with any accuracy ; 
the portion, however, occupied by the settlements on 
the west coast is about 6500 square miles.* 

That part of the country which is known may be con- 
sidered as a mountainous land. The hills in general 
approach near to the shore, leaving only a small extent 
of level ground intervening, whilst in many places 
even this disappears, and innumerable peaks, ridges^ 
precipices, and needles rise immediately from the sea, 
their dark sides being only diversified by patches of ice 
and snow. This is particularly the case in the vicinity of 
those headlands which stretch into the ocean between 
the various firths, a striking description of one of w^hich is 
contained in the following passage from a recent voyage. 
^^ No sign of vegetation was observable on these walls of 

* Hassel's Erdbeschreibun^, vol. x. p. 61 . Graah*s Nkirativt 
of an Expedition tu the East Coast of Greenland (English Trau- 
lation, London, 1837)| p. 61. 


rock. Not a blade of grass, nay, at many places, not 
even a bit of moss, to be seen about them. Nor did the 
animal kingdom, in this desolate region, exhibit more 
signs of life than the vegetable. The water-fowl that 
off nioa had been flying about us in flocks of thousands, 
had disappeared, as well as the seals and other marine 
animals, and a solitary raven, that in the evening flew 
croaking over our heads, was the only living thing we 
saw: with this exception, the solemn stillness that 
reigned around us was unbroken but by an occasional 
report, caused by the calving of the iceblink, or the 
bubbling sound proceeding from the rapid current. 
Just before nightftdl we were fortimate enough to reach 
one of the few spots along this sound (Prince Cliris- 
tian's) where it is possible to haul a boat on shore ; 
and scarcely had we effected this, when it set in to blow 
a violent gale from the north."* 

The hills which thus skirt the coast are in general very 
rugged and broken in their outline. Protected from the 
ravages of the weather by no grassy covering, the soil 
which, by filling up the interstices of the strata, gives to 
the mountains of other lands a more rounded and softer 
aspect, has all been washed away by the rains. Some- 
times the naked rocks rise into sharp lofty pinnacles, 
whose dark summits protrude far above the icy mantle 
that clothes their base ; at others, the whole hill forms 
a series of alternating mural precipices and terraces dis- 
tinguished by lines of dazzling snow ; whilst the com- 
plete disintegration of the strata has reduced many of 
them to a mass of loose unconnected stones. Though 
their height seldom exceeds SOOO feet, this elevation 
is sufficient to carry them into the region of perpetual 
snows. The highest mountain on the western coast is 
the Hiortetakkcn or Hart's Horn, near Godthaab. It is 
divided into three points, which are so steep as to prevent 
the snow from lodging except in the crevices, and serves 
the sailors for a sea-mark, whilst the clouds that gather on 

* Graah's Greenland, pp. 47, 48> 


its summits warn the timid native of approaching storms. 
Next to it is that of Kunnak, from 4300 to 4500 feet 
high, whose loffcy ridges are cased in perpetual ice. The 
snow-line on these mountains appears to fall connder- 
ahly helow the height determined hy calculation, which 
in latitude 60° is 3664 feet, and even in 70^ amounts to 
1557 feet.* 

The hills in the interior do not appear to exceed those 
on the coast in elevation, hut, on the contrary, rather to 
fsdl short of them. From all accounts, this part of the 
country is occupied hy insulated rocky mountains and 
sharp acuminated cli£^, separated hy narrow valleys ot 
chasms, I'endered inaccessible hy the glaciers. In these 
places, never visited hy the rays of the sun, ice and snow 
accumulate to a vast depth. The mountdns are either 
entirely hare or covered with a mourning veil of hlack 
lichens, variegated here and there with spots of crumhling 
snow, which, dissolved hy the sun, £ows in silvery threads 
down the precipices. The water, converted into ice, splits 
the rocks with immense force, and the fragments preci- 
pitated from the sunmiits with thundering noise, threats 
death to every intruder. Even the Greenlander, accus* 
tomed as he is to the horrors of nature, calls these spots 
places of desolation.t 

Several attempts have heen made to penetrate the re- 
cesses of this lonely region, hut every adventurer has 
failed to surmount the ohstacles that opposed his progress. 
In 1728, the Danish government ordered Major Paara 
and Captain Landorf to ride across to the lost colonies 
on the eastern coast, hut, as might have heen expected, 
they were soon stopped hy the ice and precipices. A 
hetter contrived, though nearly equally unsuccessfol 
effort, was made hy a private trader, who had resided 
many years at Frederick's Hope, on the western coast 
Accompanied hy five Greenlanders, he left this place on 

* Crantz's History of Greenland (2 vols 8vo, London, 1820), 
▼ol. i. p. 7. Scoresby's Greenland, p. 219. Arctic Regions, 
vol. i. p. 99. Graah, pp. 26, 71, 85. 

f Giesecke, Edin. Ency. vol. x. p. 489. 


the 2d September 1751, with the intention of crossing 
to the other side. Their first day's journey was over 
the mountains on the shore, till they reached a bay, the 
entrance to which is now completely filled with ice from 
a neighbouring glacier, though formerly it was quite open. 
Crossing this on the dd, they proceeded all that day over 
a rock, stopping in the evening on the outskirts of the 
iee-glance or field. Next morning they travelled over 
it the distance of two leagues, the road being as level as 
the streets of Copenhagen, to the top of a mountain 
which rises from its surface. Having arrived there soon 
after sunrise, they spent the remainder of the day hunt- 
ing rein-deer, one of which they shot ; and as there was 
nothing to make a fire with, the natives ate the flesh 
law. The following day they proceeded to a rock, which 
i^peared the highest on the glacier ; and the ice being 
imeven and full of chasms, they reached its summit, 
though not without great labour and difficulty. From 
the top their leader had a very wide view on all sides, 
and was filled with wonder at the spacious field of ice, 
extending to the snowy moimtains on the eastern coast. 
These he at first thought very near, not more than ten 
or twelve leagues distant, but on looking back to those 
near Groodhope, at least forty-eight leagues removed, he 
found his fi^ estimate much below the truth. They 
descended a little, and lay down for the night, but the 
activity of his thoughts and the extreme cold pre- 
Tented him from sleeping. Next morning they shot 
another deer, on whose raw flesh they made a good 
bfeak&st, and the trader himself, having tasted nothing 
hot for five days, took a good draught of the warm blood, 
which he says was far from doing him any harm. He was 
now forced to return, much against his inclination, the 
boots, of which they had two pair each, being completely 
cut through and worn out by the sharp ice and stones. 
He therefore set out for home, where he arrived on 
the evening of the 8th, having been seven days absent. 
From what he saw of the surrounding country, it 
seems to be almost entirely covered with ice and snowf 


except a few peaks of naked rock which rise above its 
gurface. The ice appeared pretty level, and the pits and 
chasms in it, he thought, would prove no insuperable 
impediment to passing from the one side to the other. 
The extreme cold, however, he conceived would make 
such a journey impossible, the intensity of it exceeding 
any thing he ever felt during the winter nights he had 
lain in the open air in other parts of Greei^and. The 
difficulty of carrying provisions would form another 
obstacle ; and now that the eastern shore has been attained 
in boats, there is no object to induce any one to make 
•the attempt. His account of that portion of the countiy 
which he visited maybe regarded as correct, since it is con- 
firmed by those who have viewed it from the mountains 
on both coasts. For instance, Graah concluded that some 
lofty snow-covered peaks observed from the top of a hill 
about 8000 feet high in Griffenfeldt's Island, belonged 
to the Niviarsiet or Maidens, in the district of Juliana's 
Hope. The curious fact of their finding rein-deer in this 
. desolate region, would seem to imply that it was not all 
so barren or devoid of vegetation as the portion just 

As we have already, in our description of Iceland, 
given an account of the formation and general appear- 
ance of the glaciers, we shall delay any further obser- 
vations on them until we have noticed the coasts and 
fiords, with some of the phenomena of which they 
are intimately connected. Both sides of this countiy 
possess that appearance, which may in some measure be 
considered as characteristic of the shores of the Green- 
land sea. Its torn and rocky border, lined by an in- 
numerable multitude of islands and shoals, looks like 
the fragments of some former system. Long nar- 
row bays or fiords, like broad rivers, run far up amidst 
the lofty mountains, or rather table-land, of the inte- 
.rior. The numerous branches and windings of these 
give rise to various appearances, one portion being often 

* Crantz's History of Greenland, vol. i. p. 18-23. Graah, p. 85. 


raised by the winds into a violent storm, whilst in other 
more sheltered parts the surface is scarcely broken by 
a single ripple. Not less striking are the effects of 
light and shade on those deep waters, one place glancing 
in the bright rays of the sun, whilst the next is shaded 
in the thickest gloom, or reflects the dark overhanging 
precipices. These appearances are common to the coasts 
of Norway and Iceland, as well as Greenland, but this last 
has some peculiar to itself. The vast icy plains of the 
interior abut upon these fiords, and continually moving 
forward, gradually encroach on them. Hence we find 
that the greater number are closed at the extremity by a 
glacier, close to which the water has often a depth of some 
hundred fathoms. Several of the inlets are now complete- 
ly filled, and at others the ice even projects far out into the 
waves, forming a considerable promontory. The Green- 
landers have many traditions of bays now inaccessible 
having been formerly navigated, and of others of which 
scarcely a trace remains having once extended from sea to 
sea.* These opinions are not without probability, as the 
open ocean seems the only barrier that can put an effec- 
tual stop to the progress of the glaciers ; and wherever 
they encounter the salt water, the phenomena exhibited 
are terribly majestic. The ice gliding down the steep 
banks is slowly corroded below by the waves ; but the 
destruction thus produced is more than compensated by 
the masses that press on from behind, and the accumu- 
lation of rain and snow fr^m the atmosphere. When a 
spring or small stream chances to enter the sea at the 
same place, the rapidity of increase is much augmented, 
and the catastrophe hastened. This takes place when 
the protruding mass can no longer support its own 
weight, but separating from that on the i^ore, plunges 
into the deep in huge fragments, forming those numerous 
icebergs met with in the Northern Ocean. As these gla- 
ciers, with precipitous clifis named iceblinks, in many 
places extend for miles along the beach, and in summer 

* Grants, toU i. pp. 5, 6. Graab, pp. 62, 96. 


are often full of huge gaps and fissures, it is extremely 
perilous to approach them, and hence numerous accidents 
happen to the natives. The danger is not confined to the 
immediate fall of the ice, for the wares raised by it are 
sufficient to swamp one of their frail canoes, and hare been 
known to wash themselves off the rocks where they had 
taken up their abode for the night. Under one of these, 
the Colberger Heide, Graah was detained fifteen days 
during his expedition on the eastern coast. At that time 
it terminated in a multitude of tall, bluish, semi-trans- 
parent peaks or pyramids, and was in a very tottering 
condition, whilst at its base were seen a number of smaU 
low skerries, which the year before had been buried under 
the ice. On these they hauled up their boat to pass the 
night, but in the morning found themselves so beset, that 
it was impossible either to return or proceed. Though 
often in great danger from the fragments, detached from 
the clifis with a noise like the discharge of musketry or 
cannon, yet fortunately they escaped without any ma- 
terial injury. ** Huge masses from time to time were 
precipitated from it, which, as they fell, were dashed into 
innumerable fragments, causing the sea to sweep over the 
rock where we were perched, on one occasion with such 
force as to carry away the boat, and my tent, which had 
been pitched nearest the water's edge, the distance of 
several fathoms from the spot they stood on."* 

It is to these projecting glaciers that those mighty 
icebergs which infest the Greenland Seas owe their 
origin. Their immense height, often exceeding a thou- 

• Graah, pp. 93, 137, 138. Crantz, vol. i. pp. 26, 27. Scores- 
by's Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 101-109. Off some of these blinks 
the ice is said to shoot up from the bottom of the sea in such a 

?uantity, as in many years to make them utterly impassable. Graah 
pp. 79, 80) accounts for this by supposing the bottom of the sea 
covered with a crust of ice like the dry land ; but more probably 
they are fragments sunk by stones enclosed or adhering to them. 
These become loosened in the process of melting, and the ice then 
naturally rises to the surface. Their more frequent occurrence 
off some glaciers than others may arise from the ground on vrhich 
these rest being composed of looser materials, which are Uiiu often«r 
imbedded in the superincumbent mass. 


sand feety proves that they cannot he produced from the 
freezing of the surface of the open ocean, as this is 
never known to proceed nearly to such an extent. 
Many of those masses which surround the southern 
shores of Greenland, are prohahly formed in a far 
higher latitude, where the longer duration of the cold 
must produce proportional effects. The great south- 
west current sweeps the ice down in such quantities as 
often completely to hlock up the channel between Iceland 
and Greenland. During the whole summer, it besets 
the shores round Cape Farewell, and up the western side 
to 62°, and in some years even to 66° and 67°; hut in 
September or October it all disappears, not returning 
again till January. This curious phenomenon is in all 
probability caused by some variation in the currents ; 
the one round Cape Farewell ceasing from September 
to January, whilst the other down Davis' Straits con- 
tinues the whole year,* 

The appearance and magnitude of these icebergs are 
Yery variable. Some in Disco Bay have been observed 
aground in water 800 fathoms deep, and must therefore 
have exceeded 2000 feet in height. They are often 
seen on the eastern coast rising 120 to 150 feet above the 
"water, and as not more than a seventh or an eighth 
part is ever visible, they must have had an absolute 
height of 900 or 1000 feet.t With this elevation they 
are frequently above a mile in circumference, thus con- 
taining 1000 to 1500 millions of cubic feel^ weighing 
from forty to fifty millions of tons. As these are found 
floating in the open sea after being long exposed to the 
wasting effects of the waves and currents, their bulk 
when originally separated from their parent glacier 
must have been far greater. During this gradual 
decay they often assume strange fantastic forms, more 
like the visions of an eastern poet than the works 

* Crantz, vol. i. p. 33. Gra&h, p. 54, and Ross*8 Note. 

-f* Scoretby makes the specific gravity of ice to sea-water at a 
temperature of 35** from 0.894 to 0.900 ; hence the part projecting 
womd be to that immersed as I to 8.2. Arct. Reg. vol. i. p. 234. 


of nature in an arctic land. Some resemble palacei^ 
churches, or old castles, with spires, towers, windows, 
and aiched gateways, fashioned of the purest marble, 
or, when the sun shines on them, of the finest silver. 
Others appear like ships, trees, animals, or human be- 
ings, recalling the most exquisite works of Grecian 
artists. Their colours are also extremely beautiful, 
some brilliant as burnished silver, others reflecting 
all the various hues of the rainbow, bright green, 
blue, and orange being the prevailing tints. But it is 
only when seen at a distance that the spectator can ad- 
mire their form or trace out &ncied resemblances, for 
when near, the feeling of terror and danger predominates 
over every other emotion. In the Alps the agitation of 
the air from the flight of a bird or a whisper of the hmnan 
voice is thought sometimes to cause an avalanche ; and 
the Greenlanders believe that the dashing of their oars in 
the water, or the reverberation of a loud sound, fre- 
quently loosens fragments from an iceberg. When 
obliged to pass them, they therefore glide on in solemn 
silence till the danger being over they burst out into 
a shout of thankfulness and joy.* 

The quantity of ice on the land or adhering to the 
shore, and constantly decaying under the influence of 
the sun and tides, is the cause why the water there is 
less salt than in the open sea.t The streams and currents 
are in many places rapid and dangerous, especially dur- 
ing high tides. The principal currents are those lately 
mentioned as flowing, the one south-west along the east- 

* Crantz, vol. i. p. 24, &c. Scoresby's Greenland, pp. 84, 
232. Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 225, &c. Ross's Voy. Arct. 
Regions, vol i. pp. 23, 135. Graah, pp. 93, 104, &c. Ice, both 
fresh water and salt, has a tendency to separate, on the teroperatnre 
rising above the freezing point, into distinct prismatic colamns 
similar to basaltic pillars. It is this property which renders both 
the fflaciers and icebergs so extremely fragile and dangerous. 

i* In the Greenland sea the specific gravity, according to Scoresby, 
is 1.0267 with about 3.67 per cent, of saline matter. Ross m 
Baffin's Bay found the specific gravity so low as 1.0254, which 
would give about 3.5 per cent, of saline matter. Vide Scoresby's 
Arctic Regions, voL L p. Iti2. 


em coast with a velocity sometimes of twenty miles a- 
day, and the other, also from the north, down Davis' 
Straits. Where they are confined among the numerous 
island channels on the coast, they produce many whirl- 
pools, one of the most remarkable heing at the mouth of 
the Puiosortok Firth in the south-east of Greenland. 
The rise of the tides is for the same reason very irregular ; 
but from the latitude of 60° to 64°, it is about eleven feet, 
decreasing gradually towards the north, where it is only 
from, four to six, though with many local exceptions. 

Fresh water is by no means abundant in this country, 
being in general the immediate produce of the melted 
snows. The most interesting of the true springs are those 
on the island of Ounartok, which form three pools of warm 
water used as baths by the natives. The smallest of them 
has a temperature of 90^°, the second of 92 J°, and that 
of the largest, which is seventy feet in circuit and about 
a foot deep, is from 104° to 107|° of Fahrenheit. Rivers, 
properly speaking, cannot be said to occur in Greenland. 
There are indeed a few small streams into which salmon 
migrate, but their course is too short, and the body of 
water too inconsiderable, to entitle them to this appella- 
tion. Even these in the summer months are often dried 
up by the heat of the sun, whilst in winter the extreme 
frosts frequently stop the sources whence they draw their 
supplies. Large lakes are, however, sometimes formed 
in the valleys, where the accumulated snow prevents the 
water produced during the warm season from finding its 
way to the sea. This deficiency of running streams is 
owing iii a great measure to the vicinity of the hills to 
the shore, and to the circumstance that the high ground 
in the interior is constantly covered with ice. It is also 
connected in all probability with the peculiar formation 
of the land, which we shall now notice. 

Formerly Greenland was looked upon as a vast penin- 
sula, closely united to America, and composed of one 
solid mass of land ; but modem discoveries have proved 
its total disunion from the western continent, and have 
even thrown doubts on its own internal unity. Many 


regard it as consisting of a vast assemblage of islands 
now as it were glued together by the ice which has filled 
up and hidden the intervening sounds and channels. 
This opinion is supported by the great length of the fiords, 
some on both coasts extending ninety or a hundred miles 
into the interior. Scoresby also observed a strong current 
setting into Davy's Sound on the eastern coast in latitude 
72° which was not returned by any of the others ; and 
Giesecke mentions several firths or bays on the western 
side in nearly the same latitude, 68° 40' to 72° 48', out 
of which there is a constant stream. The natives unani- 
mously believed that one of these called Ikek or Ikaresak 
fi>rmerly communicated with the other sdde, and were 
afraid that the ice would again go ofiF in some heavy 
north-eastern gale, when the people would come over and 
kill them. They also stated that from time to time car- 
casses of whales, pieces of wood, and fragments of utensils, 
were to be seen drifting out of this bay. The want of 
high mountains in the interior, and the absence of large 
rivers, both of which might be expected in a country of 
such extent, also support this view. But though these 
&cts render this opinion extremely probable, it must be 
left to future observations to confirm or refute it.* 

A great portion of Greenland being situated to the 
south of the arctic circle, and part even so low as the 
parallel of the Orkney Islands, it might be expected to 
enjoy a milder climate than it actually possesses. But in 
this case, all the local peculiarities which modify tempe- 
rature have an unfavourable tendency. The vast extent 
of land or solid ice lying between it and the pole forms a 
constant magazine of cold, the chill winds from which cool 
down the rest of the country. The structure of the land 
rising immediately firom the sea to an elevation of two or 
three thousand feet, and then spreading out into a wide 

* Scoresby'8 Greenland, p. 329, and Giesecke's Note, ibid, 
p. 467. It is remarkable that both in Norway and Iceland, coun- 
tries of far less extent than Greenland if a whole, we find mountains 
nearly twice the height of any in this last, together with numerous 
large rivers. 


plain protected from the north winds by no range of 
mountains, acts in a similar direction, manifesting its 
influence by that icy mantle which constantly clothes 
its surface, and absorbs or reflects eyery ray of heat that 
reaches it. The -vicinity of the sea, whose beneficial 
efiects are so distinctly seen on the coast of Norway, 
produces here little amelioration of climate. The great 
equinoctial current passes far from its shores, whilst that 
from the pole, loaded with floating fields and mountains 
of ice, sweeps around them. The short summer is also 
the very time when this ice appears in greatest profu- 
sion, thus still more depressing the mean temperature of 
the season ; but as it usually departs in the winter, the 
cold at that time is seldom so intense as in many parts of 
northern Europe. This is particularly the case in the 
low-lying sheltered spots on the coast or the interior of 
the fiords, where the colonists usually reside. In these 
places in South Greenland it seldom exceeds — 4® or — 8® 
of Fahrenheit, and in the winter of 1828-1829 when 
Graah resided at Nennortalik, latitude 60°, the weather 
on the whole was mild, and the thermometer generally 
above zero. Farther north, however, on the western 
side, the climate increases in severity, and at Omenak 
(70^41') and Uppemavik (72° 48'), north of Disco Island, 
the cold is often — 36® and even — 48° Fahrenheit. At 
these times the iatense frost splits asunder the very rocks, 
and on waking in the morning one finds the sheets and 
pillows incrusted an inch thick with the frozen breath. 
The ice penetrates down the chimney almost to the very 
stove, and forms an arch over its mouth with little holes 
through which the smoke issues. The flesh-barrels must 
be hewn in pieces to get out the meat, and when this, 
thawed in snow-water, is set over the fire, the outside is 
boiled sufficiently before the inside can be pierced with a 
knife. Clammy spherical concretions form on the surface 
of the sea, soon coagulating into a thick crust ; beer and 
other strong drinks' are congealed ; whilst brandy and 
spirits of wine become thick and viscid like oil. A vapour 
like smoke rises from the sea, especially in the bays^ and 


wafted into the cold atmosphere, freezes into fine particles 
which, when driven against the face or hands by the 
wind, enter the skin like needles.* At such seasons the 
poor Greenlanders suffer great privations, as they are 
prevented by the intense cold and ice from fishing. 
Fortunately this extreme depression of temperature sel- 
dom continues long, as a wind from the south-east is 
usually accompanied by an agreeable warmth which 
raises the thermometer eight or ten degrees above the 
freezing point. Hence even in winter the snow on the 
rocks frequently melts, and the inhabitants enjoy milder 
weather than those of central Europe. It is a curious 
iacty though one easily explained &om the relative 
position of the sea and land, that the character of the 
seasons in Greenland is usually the reverse of those in 
the western parts of the European continent. 

The climate of the eastern coast is considered more 
severe than that of corresponding latitudes on the west. 
This is perhaps in some measure owing to the greater 
quantity of ice brought to its shores by the currents, 
which accumulates into a compact body, only yielding 
to a long-continued wind from the land. The glaciers also 
seem to be more extensive, and to approach nearer to 
the water. More snow is also said to fall there than on 
the other side, which, uniting with them, increases their 
magnitude, and gives probability to the opinion that 
they are now larger than when the country was first set- 
tled, and are still encroaching on the open ground. 

The natives count their summer fi-om the beginning 
of May to the end of September, and during these five 
months reside in tents. But this season can scarcely 
be said to commence before June, as till that time snow 
continues to fall, and the ground is still hardened with 
frost. In the end of April, many of the sounds contain 

• These icy showers have been asserted to overwhelm the natives 
with cold, and to destroy them somewhat like the burning sand- 
clouds in the Arabian deserts; but this appears to be an exag- 


ice a foot thick, formed the preceding winter, and it is 
only now that vegetation begins to appear. The weather 
is then generally settled and serene, the air in the 
bays and valleys oppressively hot, and the thermo- 
meter rising to 86° in the shade. But near the open 
sea the fogs that prevail from April to August, and the 
■chill winds from the icebergs, soon make the inhabi- 
tants glad to creep into their furs again, and at a dis- 
tance from the shore the temperature even in the finest 
weather rarely exceeds 45°. The most agreeable and 
flettled season is autumn, though it is frequently inter- 
rupted by night-frosts as well as by snow, which begins 
to fall in August, though it seldom lies before October. 
At this period tempests of wind are very common, dur- 
ing which none dare stir from their houses, or expose 
themselves to their violence. Thunder-storms, on the 
other hand, are almost unknown, and lightning, when it 
does occur, is seldom accompanied with any sound.* 

Among the many very interesting meteorological 
appearances which distinguish this country, the Aurora 
. Borealis is one of the most remarkable. Though not 
peculiar to these regions, it is yet fiur more frequent 
there than in more southern climes, and its phenomena 
are more likely to lead to a solution of some doubtful 
problems connected with its origin and history. For a 
long period previous to the beginning of the eighteenth 
century (1716), it was altogether unknown in England, 
and almost equally so in Sweden and Iceland ; whilst 
Torfaeus recollected the time when it was viewed by his 
countrymen with terror and astonishment. Since then 
it has become very common, and also assumes vari- 
ous colours and hues, which were formerly unknown. 
In Greenland, Graah noticed two varieties, the one 
appearing uniformly between the magnetic E S.E. and 
W.S.W. as a luminous arch shining with a more or less 
vivid light, and having its highest point in the south. 

* Crantz, vo\. i. p. 40-49. Egede's Nat. Hist, of Greenlandt 
^. 51-58. Graah, pp. 51, 66, 113. Giesecke, pp. 487» 4ti8. 


ten or twenty degrees above the horizon, whence rays 
direige towards the zenith. This has usually been ob- 
served to precede some great change of temperature, 
especially from thaw to frost. The other kind, which 
seems more immediately connected with barometrical 
changes, flits from place to place, either like thin lumi- 
nous clouds, agitated by the wind, through which the 
light diffuses itself with a sort of undulating motion ; 
or like flamiug rays flashing across the firmament, ge- 
nerally towards the zenith ; or, finally, like a serpen- 
tine or zig-zag belt of vivid undulating light, frequently 
coloured, which at one moment is extingdlshed to be the 
next rekindled. The most beautiful, however, of this 
class of phenomena is the corona, a luminous ring two 
or three degrees in diameter, situated near the z^th, 
with rays diverging from it in every direction. It 
seldom lasts above a few seconds, when it seems to ex- 
plode, its matter being scattered on all sides. He found 
that its centre was invariably to the eastward of the 
meridian, 81^^ to 82^° above the horizon, accurately 
corresponding with the dip of the needle. It assumes 
many other forms besides these, two of tlie most re- 
markable of which were observed by the Danish travel- 
lers in Iceland. In the one case the aurora rose in the 
west, and spread out in two bright arches, low down in 
the northern and southern horizons, till they met in 
the east. This luminous ring continued about three 
hours, though in the interval other bows and flames, 
which had covered the whole upper part of the sky, 
had disappeared. On the other occasion an arch rose 
from the west upwards to the zenith, and from this 
point sent out a bright beam downwards, at a right 
angle, to the north, which was again divided into two. 
Besides white, the aurora displays yellow, green, and 
purple-red colours, and, when in full splendour, its 
light surpasses that of the moon. The superstition of the 
Greenlanders, who conceive this beautiful meteor to be 
the spirits of the dead playing at ball with the head of 
a walrus^ and fimcy that it draws nearer to them when 


they whistle, is not more absurd than the idea long 
prevalent in some parts of Europe, that it was ominous 
of war, pestilence, and &mine.* 

The curious effects of the unequal refraction, produced 
by the yaiying temperature and density of the different 
steata of air, constitute one of the most singular pheno- 
mena of those northern regions. They usually occur on 
the evening or night after a clear day, and are most fre- 
quent on the approach or commencement of easterly winds. 
Not only does this state of the atmosphere elevate places 
above their proper position, bringing objects sunk below 
the horizon into view, but also changes and contorts their 
appearance. It most usually produces an increase in the 
vertical dimensions of the object affected, elevating the 
coast and giving it a bolder and more precipitous out- 
line ; making the fields of ice rise like clifis of prismatic 
spar, whilst the higher and more irregular masses as- 
sume the forms of castles, obelisks, spires, or where the 
pinnacles are numerous, a forest of naked pines. In other 
places, it displays the resemblance of an extensive city, 
crowded with public edifices, whilst huge masses of rock 

* The caase of this splendid phenomenon is still involved in 
doubt, though probably in some way connected with the maffnetie 
and electrical properties of the earth. Graah seems to think that 
it is a peculiar substance, capable of being acted on by the 
winds ; an opinion confirmed by the observations of Thienemann 
in Iceland, and Wrangel in Siberia, according to whom the light, 
on reaching the zenith, vanishes like thin light clouds, which re- 
main after the shining has disappeared, and are visible even on the 
following day (als wirkliche kleme krause Wolken). On the other 
band, its elevation, great transparency, and rapidity of motion, are 
opposed to this idea, and the coincidence of some of its phenomena 
with the direction of the dipping needle would rather favour the 
opinion of its being a mere optical appearance similar to the rain- 
bow. It is worthy of notice, that its more frequent occurrence in 
the Atlantic regions has been accompanied by its diminution in 
Eastern Asia, as Baron von Wrangel was assured by the natives, 
who added, Uiat formerly it was brighter than at present, and fre- 
quently coloured like the rainbow. See his Phvsikalische Beo- 
bachtungen. Fog. An. vol. Izxxv. p. 156. Thienemann, Pog. 
An. vol. Ixxv. p. 59. Graah, p. 52. Crantz, vol. i. p. 46. 
The last remarks, that they are never seen to rise either in the 
north or north-west, though this often occurs in Iceland. Vid* 
Olalsen'i Reise, th. iL p. 159. 


seem suspended freely in the air. Sometimes ships are 
seen with their rigging curiously distorted, an additional 
sail or an inverted image of the vessel many times 
larger than the real ohject appearing ahove. Such are 
a few and but a few of the changes produced, *' as from 
the stroke of the enchantei^s wand ;" but many otiiers 
occur which it is impossible to describe, their forms 
altering with inconceivable rapidity, and one deceitful 
image disappearing only to be replaced by another.* 

There are few places in this extensive country which 
possess sufficient interest to render any detailed ac- 
count of them necessary. The features of all seem 
to be nearly similar, so that our general description 
is applicable to most of them, and would deprive 
more particular accounts of all interest. The western 
side, on which the Danish settlements are stationed, 
is still the best known, though much even of it is very 
imperfectly represented in the charts. Most of the 
missionary establishments and colonies are placed on 
Islands near the coast, a few only being situated on the 
mainland at the mouths of the firths, where the rugged 
features of the country are somewhat softened down. 
As might be expected, they are also confined to the 
more southern part of the country, none of them being 
much to the northward of Disco Island. The natives 
here affirm, that this coast is inhabited nearly as high 
as latitude 78% in which the extremity of Baffin's Bay 
is situated. They also say that their country is se- 
parated from America by a strait so narrow that they 
can speak to the inhabitants on the other side, though the 
strong current prevents them from crossing over to each 
other. Whatever credit we may give to these traditions, 
there is nothing in the appearance of the land to con- 
tradict them, and the people found by Sir John Rosb^ 
near the parallel of 76°, informed him that they came 
from the north, where most of their nation dwelt. 

• Scoresby's Greenland, pp. 96, 106, 1 1 7, 164. Arctic Regions. 
Vol i. p. 384-391. 


The district they inhabit is about a hundred and twenty 
miles long by twenty broad where widest^ and is shut 
in on all sides by the sea and lofty snow-covered moun- 
tains. It seems a mere irregular mass of hills, inter- 
iecied by rarines and precipices. Ross thinks that the 
mountain barrier, which extends from 74® 30' to 76% 
is altogether impassable owing to the precipices and ice 
which frequently run several miles out to sea. As, 
however, the southern Esquimaux came from the north, 
this opinion is at least doubtful. The natives he met 
with were of the same race, and spoke a dialect of the 
Greenland language, difiFering somewhat from that of 
the south. They have no knowledge of their neighbours 
in that quarter, and are altogether ruder and more 
ignorant. Though living upon fish, they have no means 
of supporting themselves on the water, and are un- 
acquainted with the kayak or canoe even by name. 
They appeared to have no religious ideas ; but, contrary 
to the custom of those in the south, acknowledged the 
authority of a king or chief.* 

After passing the mountain barrier, the coast, though 
presenting a less formidable aspect, is still almost a 
succession of lofty difiPs, with a great depth of water 
nettr the land. Northward of latitude 71° it is guarded 
By the Yrowen or Women's Islands, most of them little 
more than mere rocks ; and on one of them, in 72° 32\ 
is placed the colony of Uppemavik, the most northern 
of all the European settlements. It has, however, been 
almost deserted on account of the difficulty of inter- 
course with the other colonies, and is now inhabited by 
a few £Eimilies of Esquimaux. The next settlements to 
the south are those on Disco Bay, chiefly frequented 
for the whale-fishing ; but of these we shall only name 
£^^es-minde, or the Memory of Egede, established in 
honour of that pious missionaiy, and the residence of 
the governor of North Grreenland, Godhavn on Disco 
Island. This^ though the largest on the whole coast, 

• Ro88*s Voyage to the Arctic Regions, vol. i. p. 104-189. 



is, with the exception of the colony just mentioned, un- 
inhabited, but the fisheries in the bay are the most pro- 
ductive, and the surrounding district consequently the 
most thickly peopled in the country. From this place 
to Grodthaab the mainland is intersected by numerouB 
fiords, reaching to the glacier in the interior ; many 
small islands are also observed along the coast, and 
the fi)llowing settlements have been established in a 
line from north to south ; Holsteinburg in 1770, Zuk- 
kertoppen or Sugarloaf, so called from a singular conical 
mountain in its vicinity, founded in 1765 in a dreaiy 
barren country; and New Hemnhut, the first settle- 
ment of the Moravian brethren, who have now erected 
a large dwelling-house of stone. Separated from this 
by some high hiUs, is Godthaab, founded in 1723 by 
the venerable Hans Egede, as the first station for tlus 
mission and trade. It is situated on the side of BaaFs 
River, in latitude 64« 10' 6", and longitude 51« 42' 16" 
west, and is at present the residence of the governor 
of South Greenland. We shall afterwards mention 
the difiiculties experienced by Egede in establishing this 
colony ; but the number of others now rising up along 
the coast, and the success of his followers in converting 
the natives, prove that his labours have not been in 
vain. The inhabitants were formerly more numerous, 
but they have never recovered from the diminution 
occasioned by a dreadful attack of smallpox in 1733* 
Baal's River, as it is called, is only one of the largest of 
the firths which here penetrate the land. It is studded 
with islands, and after running sixty-four miles into the 
interior, divides into two arms, one of which extends 
nearly due north, at a right angle to its former direction, 
and seems to conmiunicate with some laige lakes. Both 
branches are bounded by the glacier, which here, as in 
other places, fills the centre of the land. On the shoiw 
of that part of this fiord, named Ujaraksoak, the best 
potstone, of which the Greenlanders form their lamps and 
kettles^ is found ; and in this neighbourhood also occur 
numerous remains of old Norwegian buildings. 


The coast southward of this point maintains its former 
character, and there are no settlements till in 63^ A! we 
arrive at that of Ficdcemes, four leagues from which is 
Lichtenfels, a station of the Moravians, founded in 17M. 
Between this and Frederick's Hope, in latitude 62*^, is one 
of the largest icehlinks on the coast, whose dazzling re- 
flection is visible far out at sea, gleaming like the northern 
aurora. The fragments from this glacier have completely 
closed the adjoining fiord, and when piled up by the 
waves form a magnificent bridge between the main- 
land and the adjoining islands. This bridge, eighteen 
miles long and four or iay^ broad, consists of a series of 
arches from sixty to a hundred and eighty feet high, 
underwhich, though theMlingfragments threaten instant 
destruction, boats frequently sail into the bay. The co- 
lony was founded in 1742, and the place resembles some 
of the Norwegian harbours, though the hills- are darker 
and more destitute of vegetation. Here, in a dreaiy 
room or closet, the missionary Otto Fabricius spent 
his winters collecting materials for his Fauna and 
Lexicon, whilst during the summer he traversed the 
coasts in his kayak, which he had learned to manage 
with all the dexterity of a native. The fiord Ser- 
meliarsuk, southward of this, is supposed to be that 
usually named Frobisher^s Straits, and soon ends in the 
glacier, though in the old charts it is represented as 
extending across the whole land. A strong current is, 
however, said to set out of it, carrying into the sea im- 
mense quantities of beautiful semi-transparent bluish 
ice. Nearly in latitude 61® is the large uninhabited 
island of Nunarsoit, the coast of which, usually intrench- 
ed in ice, presents so melancholy a view of barren 
rocks, that the old navigators, accustomed though 
they were to scenes of terror, named it the Cape of De- 
sol^on. Near this commences the district of Juliana's 
Hope, where are the most numerous remains of the old 
Icelandic colonies yet discovered, and on this account 
supposed by Egger and Graah to be the seat of the 
former East Bygd. The coast here is a perfect laby* 


linth of islands and firths, and is still yeiy imperfectly 
explored. But though this part of the country is more 
infested by ice than that farther north, this settlement 
is the most flourishing in Greenland, and its inhabitants 
constitute now about one-third of the whole popula- 
tion. It was founded in 1775 by Anders Olsen, whose 
descendants still reside there, subsisting, like the colo- 
nists of old, amidst the ruins of whose dwellings his 
residence was erected, by feeding cattle, or by the fish- 
eries. It lies in the centre of tiie district of the same 
name, near a lake abounding in salmon and other fish, 
has a good harbour, and from some trials that hare 
lately been made, there are hopes that the potato may 
be cultivated with success. Somewhat &rther south is 
lichtenau, a Moravian mission, with a church and 
houses built of stone £ar superior to those usually found 
in that country, and surrounded by numerous ruins of 
the Icelandic settlers. The island of Sermesoak, in the 
Ticinity, is filled with lofty mountains covered with 
perpetual ice, from which sharp naked peaks project, 
like the towers and spires of some old castle. The ex- 
tremity of this island is usually named Cape Farewell, ^ 
but the true situation of that promontory is nearly 
thirty-six miles farther south. The only other stations 
on this coast are Nennortalik or Bear Island, where the 
Greenlanders of the neighbourhood used to bring the 
skins of the white bear, and of white or blue foxes, and 
other articles, to exchange for European commodities ; 
and Fredericksthal, a Moravian settlement, the most 
southern situation inhabited by Europeans. It was 
founded in 1824, and when visited by Graah, already 
numbered 400 members, who were constantly increas- 
ing, as the inhabitants of the eastern coast every year 
flocked thither to enjoy the instructions of Mr Klein- 
schmidt, who lived among the natives like a father 
with his children. This venerable old man had already 
laboured for the instruction and improvement of the 
Greenlanders nearly forty years, and as he is per* 
fectly fiimiliar with their language, not without suceett. 


The only remarkable place farther south is Cape Fare- 
well, situated on an island detached from the mainland^ 
and surrounded by many other smaller ones, frequented 
in the spring by the fishermen, who there procure a 
great number of seals. The firth which separates them 
from the shore is about five miles wide, and by Graah 
named Prince Christian's Sound. A rapid current runs 
through it, and masses of floating ice coyering its sur« 
iacey render the navigation extremely dangerous. 

Our acquaintance with the eastern coast is still more 
limited, being confined to those parts described by Scores- 
by and Graah, who almost alone, in modem times, have 
been able to reach its icy border. The observations of 
th« former were made in a very high latitude (69°-75°), 
whilst the researches of the latter were confined to the 
portion below 65^°, leaving nearly four degrees altogether 
unknown. The expedition, of which he had the chai^ 
was fitted out by the Danish government, for the purpose 
of deciding the question regarding the situation of the old 
Icelandic colonies. Sailing from Copenhagen in March 
1828, he arrived in Greenland at the end of May ; but 
spent the remainder of the season in surveying the dis- 
trict of Juliana's Hope, and in making preparations for his 
journey the following summer. He left Nennortalik for 
the east coast on the 21st March 1829, but owing to tlie 
ice, which often detained him several days at a time, did 
not reach Kikkertak, at the extremity of Prince Christi- 
an's Sound, till the 1st of April. Here he was confined 
twenty-five days in almost total inactivity, the ice re- 
maining completely jammed up to the shore ; and here, 
too, his troubles with the natives who accompanied him 
commenced, as the hunters, who were expected to procure 
provisions for the rest of the party, were not able to sup- 
port themselves. On the 26th April, he left this firth, and 
with great dif&culty, owing to the laziness of the women 
who rowed the boat, reached Alluk, an island formed 
of two mountains, which enjoys a tolerably luxuriant 
vegetation, and on which is held an annual fkir. On the 
doth, he arrived at Nenneetsuk, where he lay icebound for 


three weeks. This place has evidently been inhabited 
at a former period, as they found many houses contain- 
ing drift-wood of red and white pine, and graves^ near 
which were the himting instruments of the deceased, to 
enable him to pursue his employments in the land of 
spirits. At Ivimiut, where he stopped on the 23d May, 
the inhabitants were more cleanly in their persons than 
those on the western side, and remarkable for their clear 
complexion, regular features, and oyal-shaped heads. The 
coast, northward from this, was lined with glaciers,beh]nd 
which rose a lofty chain of mountains^ on whose precipit- 
ous sides, where no snow can rest, curions purple-colour- 
ed strata were seen diverging from the summit to the icy 
base, intersected by arch-formed layers, supposed inm 
the blue tint to contain potstone. Near this locality one 
of the Greenlanders had a narrow escape £rom a bear, 
which came upon him when sleeping in the open country. 
He was only awakened by its breathing close to him, in 
time to escape to his canoe, whence he killed it with his 
arrows. This adventure procured him great favour with 
his countrywomen, who were now all anxious to obtain 
him for a helpmate, though formerly he had been refused 
by them all. On setting out on this expedition, each of 
the men had chosen a lady in the party as his companion, 
but this poor fellow had been rejected by all as a Nel- 
lursok, ** heathen or ignoramus." He took his revenge, 
by making choice of a superannuated beldame, the ugliest 
of the whole party. 

At Taterat, where the natives have little in their out- 
ward appearance in common with the Esquimaux race, 
they found an iron cannon about sixty-five inches long, 
which had probably been part of the wreck of some 
whaler lost on this coast. Near that place is a singular 
grotto, in which is a remarkable harmonic echo, repeat- 
ing the lowest sounds, in solemn tones, like a distant 
funeral-dirge or the wild music of the iEk)lian haip. 
Even the se&-birds, frequenting it in flocks of thou- 
sands, appeared to take pleasure in hearing their own 
shrill cries re-echoed from the vaulted rocks. On the 


2dd June, Graah parted with two European companions 
who had hitherto attended him, and proceeded along 
the coast in a single boat. Four days afterwards, he 
passed one of the largest iceblinks he had yet seen, being 
above a mile long, and rising perpendicularly from the 
sea about 600 feet. It was full of huge gt^ and fissures^ 
and at the same time completely undermined by the 
waves. Off Nektoralik, a lofty, black promontory fre- 
quented by thousands of sea-fowl nestling in its inacces- 
sible clifis, are numerous snow-free islands rising into 
conical peaks. These, by a curious effect of refraction, 
were elevated much beyond their actual height, and had 
each an inverted image of itself over it in the air, con- 
tinually rising and falling. On the 2d July, he reached 
Nunarsoak, a rocky country, but free from glaciers, 
where his eyes, almost destroyed by the constant glare 
from the mow, were refreshed by the sight of some 
mountains covered with dwarf> willow and bireh. This 
was also the case at Griffenfeldt's Island, consisting of a 
single mountain, 8000 feet high, and abundantly covered 
for more than a fourth of its height with black crake- 
beny, whortleberry, and other bushes. Northward from 
this is a large island named Skioldunge, separated by 
a narrew channel from the mainland, in which it is 
almost enclosed. On the continent, nearly opposite its 
extremity, is Ekallumiut or Queen Maria's Valley, one 
of the most delightful spots seen by him on the whole 
voyage. Considerable fields extend on both sides of 
a cove, covered with dwarf willows two feet high, 
juniper bushes, black crakeberry and whortleberry in- 
terspersed with a fine species of grass, much burnt by 
the heat of the sim, except near the rivulets which 
intersect the plain in every direction. At the end of 
the cove is an extensive valley, adorned with various 
wild flowers, particularly the sweet-smelling lychnis, 
and divided by a brook abounding in char, which has its 
origin in the glacier. But the characteristic features of 
Greenland scenery are not wanting even in this summer 
paradise ; about two or three hundred paces from the sea. 


the cliffs rise ahnost perpendicularly ikr beyond their 
usual height, the clouds seeming to rest on tiieir snow- 
clad summitSy whilst down the raTines on the sides, huge 
masses of ice were every moment precipitated with a 
noise like thunder. In this really beautiful retreat the 
natives from the surrounding country assemble some days 
every summer, feasting on the char and wild berries, and 
spending the night dancing to the tambourine. 

Farther north he passed an extensive iceblink, the Col- 
berger Heide, the perpendicular walls of which line the 
coast for many miles, and soon after, a quadruple series of 
icebergs of immense height, stretching out into the sea 
£rom the mouth of a fiord. From this place both the 
mainland and islands preserve their former character, 
the vegetation on Sneedorff's Island only being richer 
than any he had formerly seen* Leaving on the 24th 
July, he reached an island which he named Turn Back, 
as the ice precluded all his endeavours to proceed farther. 
This place, in latitude 65° 14', was the utmost limit of his 
journey, for, after remaining in its vicinity till the 21st 
August, with no prospect of the ice opening, he returned 
southward to look for winter-quarters. These he fixed at 
Nukarbik, in 63° 22' N., where, having spent some time 
in collecting provisions in the vicinity, he took up his 
abode during the dark months. 

In the summer of 1830, he set out with the intention 
of penetrating farther north, but his success on this occa- 
sion was even less than before. After remaining fifteen 
days shut in by the ice on some small skerries under the 
Colberger Heide, he was obliged to turn at a lower lati- 
tude than the previous year. In the first part of the 
voyage his people were exposed to great privations, their 
provisions having been all exhausted, and a small seal, 
caught by one of the boatmen, ** was devoured raw, hide^ 
hair, and all." For six weeks their food consisted almost 
entirely of wild berries, and Graah, who was at last com- 
pletely worn out, sick with fatigue and want of sus- 
tenance, ascribes the preservation of his life to the crake- 
berries. He reached Nennortalik in a state of complete 


exhaustion on the 19th October, where the kindnefls of 
the residents soon restored him to health. 

From latitude 65® 14', where the observations of Graah 
end, to 69®, where those of Scoresby begin, the eastern 
coast of this vast country is, as already remarked, un-* 
known. It has no doubt been seen by many of the na- 
vigators who frequent those seas, but the barrier of ice 
brought by the current from the Northern Ocean has 
prevented any of them ^m landing, or even approaching 
near its shores. Scoresby first came in sight of the 
land in latitude 74®, the most southern part being, he 
thought, the Hold-with-Hope of Hudson, and the most 
northerly Gale Hamkes' Land discovered in 1654. As 
seen from the ship it was mountainous, rugged, and in- 
tersected by bays or firths ; and as it continued in sight 
at intervals for some time, he employed himself in 
laying down its position and giving names to the differ- 
ent parts of it, which are too uninteresting to be repeat- 
ed here. After some time spent at sea in pursuit of 
whales, he, on the 19th July, again in latitude 71° 2\ 
approached the shore, which is dark and steril, the 
mountains rising firom the beach in mural clifis, consist- 
ing of an innumerable series of peaks, cones, or pyra- 
mids, with a rugged assemblage of sharp rocks jutting 
from their sides. The general height here, as at other 
places, was about SOOO feet, though some individual sum- 
mits, as one of the Roscoe Mountains, exceeded this 
elevation considerably. Five days afterwards he landed 
in 70® 9</, on a rocky point named Cape Lister, and ascend- 
ing to the top of the cliff, found neither soil nor verdure, 
but a pavement of loose quartz or hornblende stones, 
either naked or covered with black lichens. These, with 
a few tufts of hardy plants, were all the vegetation visible. 
On a small strip of beach he discovered the ruins of an 
Esquimaux hut, in which he found the remains of fuel, 
an arrow-head of bone pointed with iron, and other frag- 
ments of wood and bone, with which the hand of man 
had evidently been busy. From these appearances hecon- 


eeived it probable that the huts had been occupied so lately 
as that summer. It is also interesting to remark that he 
observed here horns and bones of the rein-deer, an animal, 
Graah affirms, not to be found on the part of the coast 
examined by him.* He afterwards landed at Capes 
Stewart and Hope, at both of which he noticed huts with 
similar remains, whilst the rocks near the former, in 
Jameson's Land, are remarkable, as consisting of the ooal- 
formation, with a variety of organic remains. The num- 
ber of inhabitants, too, seems to have been considerable, 
though none were seen, having probably migrated into 
the interior during the summer ; while the grass and 
other plants were far more luxuriant than in any of the 
places visited by Graah. The country surveyed southward 
of Scoresby Sound, where these observations were made, 
had the common rugged appearance of the Greenland 
shores. He again sailed in a northern direction, and 
landed on Traill Island (72*^ 12' N.), where similar vestiges 
of at least fifty summer huts were visible. This was the 
last place he landed at, though he examined a consider- 
able portion of the coast in this neighbourhood, before 
the approach of winter compelled him to return home. 
The results of his researches are best seen on the chart ; 
but they also brought to light many curious facts con- 
nected with the natural history of this island and its 
probable internal constitution. The proofs which he 
obtained of the existence of inhabitants in these high 
northern regions are also extremely interesting ; and 
though none were seen, the utensils left at their dwell- 
ings indicate that they are similar in their habits to those 
who frequent the east and west coasts.t 

Before concluding this description of Greenland, it 
may be necessary to notice the disputed question respect- 
ing the situation of the old Icelandic settlements. The 

* This statement is rather doubtful, as one of the natives de- 
clared that they were met with there ; and Major Sabine found 
horns newly cast on this coast, on the Pendulum Isluids, lat. 74** N« 
Vid. Graah, p. 104, note. They also occur in Spitzk^rgen. 

t Scoresby's Voyage to Greenhmd. 


general opinion at present seems to be, that both the 
bygds, as they were called, were on the western coast ; 
the east, which was the most populous, in the vicinity 
of Juliana's Hope, where there are many remains of old 
buildings, and where pieces of bells and other metallic 
substances have been frequently found ; the other, far- 
ther north on the same coast, somewhere between the 
sixty-second and the sixty-seventh degrees of latitude, 
runic monuments having been observed as high as 72° 
66\ The opposite opinion, which till lately was al- 
most universally held, considered the former as situated 
on the eastern shore, directly fronting Iceland. We 
cannot enter at any length into this question, many 
t>f the arguments on both sides being of an abstruse 
nature, and very uninteresting to the general reader. 
We may however state, tliat the voyage of Graah, 
which has been regarded as settling the dispute, seems 
by no means decisive. The difficulties he had to en- 
counter prevented him from surveying the shores with 
.the requisite accuracy ; his whole time and attention 
being required to enable him to push along from island 
to island, and from cape to cape, whilst the interior of the 
•fiords, where the ruins of the colony might be expect- 
ed to occur, were almost unvisited. The assertions of 
the natives, again, that such remains do not exist, must 
in a great measure go for nothing, as he himself ad- 
mits that neither their testimony nor their knowledge is 
much to be relied on.* Even had they known of such 
places, their anxiety to get home and to avoid labour, 
with many other motives, might induce concealment. 
He also acknowledges, that even before going thither he 
** was thoroughly convinced that the East Bygd would 
not be found there ;"t a state of mind not the best 
fitted to ensure success or encourage exertion. Whilst 
these things lessen the value of his evidence against its 
existence on the eastern coast, some facts stated by him 
tend rather to favour the opposite conclusion. For ex- 

* Graah*8 Greenland, pp. 132, 135. t Ibid. p. 105. 


ample, he saw natives whose features difiered from those 
of their ooimtrymen on the western ooast, and more re- 
sembling the European.* The strange traditions, too, of 
a fierce and cruel race inhabiting the mountains, he found 
preyailing all along the coastt From his account this 
shore seems equally fertile with the opposite one, and it 
is therefore not easy to assign a reason for the Icelanders^ 
most of them from the north-west peninsula, neglecting 
the country in their immediate neighbourhood, and sail- 
ing many miles to another by no means preferable. An- 
other difficulty attending this opinion is, the prevalence 
of the notion, which can be traced back to a very early 
period, that the colony was to be found there. Bishop 
Amund's voyage, in which some of the inhabitants on the 
eastern coast are stated to have been seen driving home 
their catUe, whatever credit we may attach to the &ct 
related, proves at least that this was then the general 
behef, which could only have arisen from tradition, as 
the spirit of inquiry into the ancient history of these 
places had not yet awakened in Iceland. The &ble, as 
Graah calls it, of Hvidsserk, a mountain in Greenland, 
and Sneefields Jokul in Iceland, being both visible at the 
same time from the middle of the passage, at least proves 
the existence of this opinion from a very early period.} 
The strongest arguments for the other supposition seem 
to be, the number of ruins on the western coast, and the 

♦ Graah's Greenland, pp. 70, 73, 88, 116. 

t Ibid. pp. 67, 90, 104. 

t This may have been no fable after all ; the distance from Snee- 
fieldnes due west to Greenland is 396 miles, but in a direction a 
little north, which would still have been called west, it is much 
less, probably (for the coast is almost unknown) not more than 260 
or 270 miles. Now, the last-named mountain, though it should not 
be seen from more than 80 miles, is yet, from the effects of refrac- 
tion, often visible from the sea beyond tiie Westmanna Isles, a dis- 
tance of more than 140 English (30 Danish) miles (01a£ien's 
Reise, th. i. p. 152); and Scoresby (Voyage, p. 106) saw some 
of the Greenland coast of an inferior height (Home's Foreland, 
3500 feet) when 160 miles distant. This makes the fact stated at 
least possible ; and Torfceus mentions that it only sometimes occurred 
(modo serenabit), p. 71. 


entire absence, so far as is yet known, of any on the other 
shore.* But this latter argument loses much of its weight, 
when we consider the difficulty of discovering these ruins, 
even where they do exist. As Graah says, ** one may 
search for them over and over again, if he have neither 
guide nor clue to aid him, without finding them, the 
greater number being so overgrown with heath and 
thickets as to be scarce distinguishable from the rocks." 
And in another passage he mentions, that '* many a 
person has lived a length of time in Greenland with- 
out seeing any of the antiquities that surround him."t 
For these reasons we are disposed to regard this point 
not only as still undecided, but as one on which, with- 
out more evidence, it would be premature to come 
to any conclusion. Before a decisive opinion could be 
formed, it would be necessary to compare the accounts 
contained in the old descriptions of the bygds, whether 
printed or in manuscript, with the present aspect of the 
country, due attention being at the same time paid to 
their proper dates. This will now be rendered easier by 
the publication of the ** Historical Monuments of Green- 
land,*' a work comprising all the ancient documents on 
this subject, which has been commenced by the Society 
of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen. 

* In a late nnmber of the Annates dos Vovages (Noyember 1837, 
p. 236) it is mentioned on the authority of Si. Zahrtmann, captain 
of a Danish vessel, that the natives had informed the missionaries 
at Frederickstad of a stone with an inscription on it, found by them 
on the island Idloarsut (lat. 63**). Not being noticed by Graah 
in his voyage in 1830, it is thought to be of recent erection, pro- 
bably by the crew of the mysterious Lilloise. 

t Graah, pp. 156, 166. 



History of Greenland. 

Discovery by Gunnbiorn — Colonized by Erik Raade— Conversion to 
Christianity — Leif — History of Vinland — ^Biame — Thorwaid 
slain by the Skrellings— Thorfinn — Other Voyages thither — 
Vinland Americap— Subjugation of Greenland— -Government- 
Bishop's Voyages to the North — Loss of Colonies — ^Erik Wakk- 
endorff attempts to recover them — Voyages of Heinson, Davis, 
Lindenow, Danel, &c. — Mission of Hans Egede-^Diffieulties and 
Success — Egede's Return Home — Benefits of the Missions-— 
Natives — Origin and Appearance in the Country — Ancient In. 
habitants of America — Character — Vanity — Morals — Religion^ 
Conjurors — Government — Sciences — Language— Food — Houses 
— Tents— Dress — Boats — Family Relations — Amusemoits — 
Burials — Employments— Commerce — Conclusion. 

The history of the colonization of Greenland is not 
merely of importance from its consequences, but also 
interesting as a vivid picture of the life and manners of 
that remote period. The same restless and daring spirit 
of adventure, the same insatiable thirst for revenge, 
which led many of the first colonists to Iceland, com- 
pelled others to take refuge on the still more inhospitable 
shores of Greenland. Gunnbiorn, son of Ulf Krake, 
a celebrated Norwegian rover, when sailing along the 
west coast of the former, at a greater distance from the 
land than was customary at that time, discovered some 
small islets or skerries, to which he gave the name of 
Gunnbiomarsker. These were rocky and uninhabitable, 
but on the same voyage he observed, still farther to- 
wards the west, a country of greater extent and more 
inviting aspect, on which however he does not appear to 


have landed, nor even to have approached very near 
it. No &rther endeavours to explore this region 
were for some time made ; till Erik Raude, or the Red, 
being compelled to set out in quest of a new abode, 
turned his thoughts thither. His &ther, Thorwald, a 
jarl of the province of Jadar or Listen, had fled from 
Norway in consequence of a murder committed by him 
and his son, and sailing to Iceland, had settled at Drangr 
in Homstrand. After the death of his parent, Erik 
removed thence to Yatnshom, near Haukadal, where 
his violent temper soon found occasion to display itself. 
His servants endeavouring, probably by magical arts, to 
turn aside a hill of sand which was wasting his fields, 
were put to death by his neighbour, Eyolf Saur. This 
enraged him to a great degree, and he soon after killed 
both Eyolf and Ra^, who had incited him to the action. 
For this crime he was banished the district, and retired to 
Yxney, an island in the Breida Fiord, where a dispute soon 
arose between him and Thorgest about the sacred pillars 
(setstokkar) which he had lent to the latter. The quar- 
rel, as was usual, ended in bloodshed ; and other chiefs 
joining both parties, the civil authorities at last interfered, 
and Erik was condemned to three years' banishment by 
the Thomes-Thing. His Mends concealed him for some 
time, till a ship being prepared, he set sail, declaring his 
intention of going in search of the land formerly seen 
by Gunnbiom, and promising to return with tidings if he 
discovered it. Sailing westward from Sneefieldsnes in 
982, he soon came in sight of one of the Greenland 
Alps, named Mid Jokul, near the place afterwards known 
as Blaserkr. Avoiding this coast, which seemed rugged 
and dangerous, he sailed southward, looking out for some 
place where he might settle, till, turning towards the west 
round the Hvarf, he passed the first winter on Eriksey, 
near the middle of what was afterwards called the 
Eastern Bygd or Colony.* Next summer he entered 

* This is the account of Torfaeus ; many differences occur in the 
interpretation of the original passages, and even the reading of that 


the firth or sound, which he called Erik's Fiord, and ex- 
plored its coasts, wintering on several small islands named 
Erik's Holm. According to some acounts he returned 
the next summer to Iceland ; hut as the term of his 
hanishment had not then expired, those areprohably more 
correct which represent him as spending another season 
ahroad. He landed first in the Breida Fiord, and the 
succeeding spring was defeated in single combat by his 
old enemy l^orgest, after which they were reconciled. 
He then went back to Greenland, which was the name 
he had given the new country, with the view of inducing 
others to accompany him, where he buHt a town called 
Brattahlid on Erik's Fiord. By his representations ci 
its fertility he succeeded in his object, though of twenty- 
five vessels that left Iceland along with him only fonr- 
teen reached their destination, the others having been 
either wrecked or driven back by a tempest. Those who 
arrived safe placed their habitations in the vicinity of 
Erik, and near the same firth, naming them either after 
themselves or firom some local peculiarity. This event 
happened in the year 986, and many colonists afterwards 
repaired thither.* 

Seldom has a revolution of such importance been 
effected with so little opposition as the first introduction 
of Christianity into Greenland. In the autumn of 
999, Leif, a son of Erik the Ked, having made a voyage 
to Norway, attracted the notice of Olaf Tryggvason, king 
of that country. Olaf having in early life, whilst wan- 
dering about as an exile, become a believer in the gospd, 

in the Landnamabok is doubtful. In the text, it is " ner nlidre 
enn vestri bygd/' that is, *' nearer the middle than the western 
bygd;" other copies have "naer eystri bygd/' " near the eistem 
bygd." The word Hvarf means a place of turning, a promontory, 
here supposed by Graah to be Cape Farewell ; and Bygd, which 
so often occurs in these accounts, is an inhabited place, Ubygd, 
an uninhabited one : it is derived from the Icelandic byggia, to 
build ; a word still common in the Lowland dialects of Scothmd 
both as a noun and verb. 

* Torfeus, Gronlandiae Antiqua (Havnie, 1715), pp. 9-17, 241. 
Landnamabok, p. 100-103. Am. Jon. Spec. Island, p. 146. 
Claudius Lyschander places the discovery in ▲. d. 767. 


was, after he ascended the throne, extremely zealous for 
the propagation of his new faith. For this purpose 
he made many journeys through his dominions, attended 
by his priests and a chosen hand of Berserker, purposing 
to employ these last against such as the former should 
fiul to convince. It was on his return from one of these 
excursions that he met with Leif and his pagan compa- 
nions, on whom the arguments of the king, and the ex- 
cellence of the Christian religion, had a more hcneficial 
influence than the harsher measures used with his own 
subjects. The son of Erik was converted, and returning in 
the summer of 1000, became the instrument of diffusing 
the truth through his adopted country. He was accom- 
panied by a priest and some other missionarie8,and having, 
during his voyage, met with some shipwrecked mariners 
who had preserved their lives by clinging to planks, he 
carried them with him to Greenland.* This humane 
conduct of Leif, so contrary to the barbarous spirit of the 
times, procured for him the surname of Hin Heppne, or 
the Fortunate, but excited the anger of his fstther, who 
also reproached him for bringing a wicked and dangerous 
man, as he called the priest, into the colony. Erik, 
however, yielding to the arguments of his son, soon 
became a Christian, and having been baptized, all the 
other inhabitants shortly after followed his example. 
The way for this change was probably in some measure 
prepared by the influence of those among the original 
settlers, who had been converted before their arrival in 
the country. One of these, a native of the Hebrides, was 
celebrated as the author of a poem called the Hafger- 
dinga Drapa, a strophe of which, imbued with the pious 
sentiments of its author, is still preserved.f 

The country inhabited by these colonists was, as far 
as we can learn from the notices of the old authors, 

* Others place this incident in his Toyage to Vinland, which we 
have soon to mention. 

t Tcrfsns, Gron. Ant. ch. zTii. p. 127-130. Am. Jon. Spec. 
Isl. p. 147. Thu Terse may be found in the Landnamabok, pp. 
1U4, 377. The hafgerdingar are a species of whale. 



similar in climate and productions to what it is at present. 
It was divided into two districts or bygds hy an extensive 
desert, and six days were required to pass from the one 
to the other in a six-oared boat. The East Bygd was 
always the more populous, and, besides two monas- 
teries and the bishop's see of Grardar on the Einars Fiord, 
where there was a cathedral dedicated to St Nicolas, 
contained twelve parishes and 190 farms. Brattahlid, 
on Erik's Fiord, was first the residence of Erik Raude, 
and afterwards of the Grovemor or Lagmann. The 
West Bygd had only four parishes, and about 100 
£Eirms. The ancient authors mention the names and 
order of the different fiords on which these settlements 
were founded, but it could be of no use to repeat the 
catalogue here. Many endeavours have been made, in 
recent times, to assign to these their proper situation, 
but besides the great difiFerence between those who sta- 
tion all the colonies on the west, and their opponents, 
there are many others of minor importance. The writeis 
who place the East Bygd in Juliana's Hope, generally 
consider the ruins on the firth of Igaliko as those of the 
episcopal residence of Gardar ; whilst Biamey, at the 
farthest extremity of the West Bygd, is regarded as the 
present Disco Island.* 

Soon after this period the northern annals introduce 
the discovery of America by the Greenland colonists. 
Heriulf, one of the companions of Erik the Red, and 
his son Biame, were in the habit of trading to various 
Burroimding countries, usually spending the winter at 
Eyrar in Iceland. In the year 986, the latter, on 
returning from a voyage to Norway, learned that his 
father had departed for the lately discovered country. 
Thither, though the autumn was already &r advanced, 
he resolved to follow him, guided only by the stars, 
and the reported situation of the land, being determined 
to spend the following winter, like all the preceding one% 

* Torfeus, Gron. Ant. ch. t. vi. vii. yiii. z. Oraah's Green- 
land, Appendix, p. 155-176. See above, chap. vii. p. 251. 


with his parent. On his passage he was overtaken hy a 
stonuy and driven £Eir to Qie south-west, where he saw a 
low undulating region overgrown with wood, and very 
unlike Greenland, as it had been described to him. Here, 
therefore, he did not land ; but, sailing northwards^ 
passed a second country, and then a third, mountainous^ 
and covered with icebergs. Without stopping at any 
of these, he continued his voyage, and soon after reach- 
ed Heriulihes in Greenland, where he found his father. 

During the winter he spent here, the fame of his dis- 
covery was spread abroad, and incited Leif, the son of 
£rik, to rival his relation in the discovery and coloniza- 
tion of new regions. Some time, however, elapsed before 
he could put this plan into execution, and it was only in 
the year 1000, that, having purchased Blame's ship, and 
equipped it with thirty-five men, he set sail. The first 
land seen was stony and barren, with snow lying among 
the rocks, and was named by them Helluland. The next, 
more like that first observed by Biarne, was called Mark- 
land, or Woodland, being level, covered with wood, and 
surrounded by clifis of white sand. Sailing onwards they 
came in sight of an island lying to the east of the main- 
land. Landing near it they found the soil fertile, the 
air mild, and numerous shrubs bearing sweet berries. 
They then sailed up a river, stored with salmon and 
other fish, till they came to a lake from which it issued ; 
and, having erected huts in the vicinity, they spent the 
winter, which was milder and the days longer than in 
Greenland. An ancient writer says that on the shortest 
day the sun was above the horizon from dagmal to eUU^ 
that is, from half-past seven a. m. to half-past four p. m., 
which makes the day equal to nine hours, and conse- 
quently the latitude of the place rather more than 41% 
or nearly that of New York.* 

One day whilst residing there they missed one of their 

* The correct latitude is 41'* 24' 10^ or a little north of Nan- 
tucket, the character of which agrees with the description of the 


number, a Grerman, of the name of Tyrker (Dietrich or 
Dirk), and on going in search of him, they met him 
coming out of a wood leaping and dancing as if huntic. 
On his friends inquiring the cause of this joy, he at 
first answered them in German, which they did not un- 
derstand, and then showing them some fruit, told them 
in the Norse tongue that these were grapes, from which 
wine was made in his father-land. From this occur- 
rence they named the country Vinland^ and having load- 
ed the ship with wood, and collected a quantity of 
grapes, they returned in the spring to Greenland. 

The beauty and fertility of this new land, it might 
have been thought, would have attracted to it all the 
colonists from those barren and dreary shores where 
they had fixed their dwellings. But this was not the 
case ; and even Leif did not again return, leaving his 
brother Thorwald, who sailed thither that year with 
the same crew to explore it more minutely. He spent 
that summer and the next in examining the land to the 
east and west, and found the coast protected by islands, 
beautifully wooded almost to the water's edge, but with 
no trace of inhabitants. On the third year they continued 
their investigations, and when repairing their ship, which 
had been damaged, set up the keel on a promontory, 
hence called Kialames. Kear this point Thorwald land- 
ed, and, delighted by the appearance of the country, 
exclaimed to his companions, '* Here it is beautiful, and 
here I should like well to fix my dwelling." But 
whilst still engaged in surveying the country, they were 
surprised by finding on the sandy beach three «maU 
canoes covered with skins, under each of which three 
Skrellings were concealed. The Greenlanders seized 
on these strangers, and with wanton cruelty put them 
to death, except one who contrived to escape in his 
boat. Punishment for this crime was not long de- 
layed, for, one night soon after, their sleep was broken 
by a voice warning them to arise and save their lives. 
They started up and found themselves attacked by a 
fieet of these savages, who poured in upon them a flight 


of arrows. Protected by the batUe-screens they had 
raised on the ship's side, they at last repulsed their 
diminutive opponents, to whom they contemptuously 
gave the name of Skrellings (chips or parings). But 
Thorwald foimd that they were not so despicable as 
was at first imagined, for a wound he had receiyed from 
them proved mortal. When dying he said to his com- 
panions, ** I now advise you to prepare for your de- 
parture as soon as possible ; but me ye shall bring to 
the promontory where I thought it good to dwell ; it 
may be that it was a prophetic word that fell from my 
mouth about my abiding there for a season ; there shall 
ye bury me, and plant a cross at my head, and also at 
my feet, and call the place Krossanes in all time 
coming." With these affecting words he expired, and 
his associates having complied with his request, returned 
the following season (1005) to Greenland. 

The melancholy though in some measure merited 
£Eite of Thorwald did not prevent another brother, 
Thorstein, from engaging in the same adventurous im- 
dertaking. He sailed for Vinland, accompanied by his 
wife Gudrida, his whole family, and twenty-five men 
for his crew, with the intention, it is said, of bringing 
home his brother's body, though, judging from the 
character of some of his followers, more probably with 
the design of settling there. He was, however, driven 
by a storm on the western coast of Greenland, and com- 
pelled to remain during the winter in an iminhabited 
district. Want and fiitigue proved fatal to him and to 
some of his crew, and it was not till the next spring 
that Gudrida returned home, carrying his dead body 
along with her. 

A fourth adventurer in this perilous path now appears. 
According to the story, whilst Gudrida and her friends 
were watching her husband's corpse, the dead man 
lose np in his bed and foretold that his wife should 
marry a stranger, and settle with him in Vinland. In 
due time the prediction was accomplished. Thorfinn 
Karlsefucy a wealthy Icelander^ desoended from Ragnar 


Lodbrok, arrived in Greenland, and espousing the widow 
of Thorstein, thus inherited his right to Vinland. He 
sailed thither with her in 1007, having three ships^ and a 
larger colony than any of the preceding, consisting of a 
hundred and sixty men, with all necessary tools^ furni- 
ture, and cattle, for forming a settlement. They seem 
to have proceeded &rther south than on former occa- 
sions, and at last came to a land where they found grapes 
and ears of com (maize) growing wild. They set up 
their winter dwellings in a hay where the Skrellings 
soon found them out, and, seemingly ignorant of tl^ 
former transactions of the Northmen with their friends, 
bartered skins and furs for small strips of cloth, and 
at the last for milk-soup, which they preferred to 
all other merchandise. The lowing of a hull belong- 
ing to the colonists at once put them all to flight ; some 
rushed to their canoes, others fled for shelter to the huts 
of the strangers, where the foreign appearance of the 
inmates proved an equally terrific object. Some small 
presents, and particularly milk, with which they were 
still extremely delighted, reconciled them to their guests. 
Thorfinn had wisely prohibited his followers from selling 
them arms on any conditions ; but one of them stole a 
battle-axe, whose power he resolved to try on one of 
his companions. To the horror of the whole assembly, 
who had never seen such an effect follow a blow with 
their wooden hatchets, the stroke proved fatal, when a 
third, whose commanding air and manner marked him 
for a chief, seizing the dangerous weapon, threw it in- 
dignantly into the sea. 

Thorfinn remained here till the following winter, at 
the commencement of which he was again visited by an 
immense fleet of the natives, who now attacked the 
Northmen by a discharge of missiles so galling, that 
they betook themselves to flight, and were only saved 
from total defeat by the heroism of Freydisa, a daughter 
of Erik the Red, Reproaching her countrymen for flee- 
ing from such miserable caitifs, she seized the naked 
sword of one of them who had been slain, and advanced 


against the SkrelliiigSy who fled terrified to their canoes. 
This adventure disgusted Thorfinn with his new habita- 
tion, and having spent a third winter farther north, he 
returned to Greenland, enriched with the valuable furs 
and other articles obtained in his traffic with the natives, 
whence he afterwards went to Iceland, where he lived 
in great magnificence. After his death Gudrida, who, 
with the rest of these early adventurers, was a Christian, 
went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Returning from this 
long journey, she spent the remainder of her life in a 
nunnery, which had been built by her son Snorro, who 
was bom in Yinland. From this chief an illustrious 
race descended, his grandson being the learned Bishop 
Thorlak Runol&on, the principal author of the old 
canon law of Iceland, and it is probable also the histo- 
rian of these voyages. 

The wealth acquired by Thorfinn Karlsefne in Vin- 
land induced others to proceed in the same tract. Helge 
and Finnboge, two brothers from Iceland, went thither 
in 101], accompanied by Freydisa, in three ships con- 
taining thirty men each. The bad conduct and deceit 
of this designing woman brought ruin on the whole 
undertaking, and she is said to have at last prevailed 
on her husband to murder their two friends, with all 
their attendants. Leaving the scene of her crime, she 
returned to Greenland ; but the infamy of her wicked 
deeds followed her there, and she ended her wretched 
life abhorred by all. 

The subsequent history of Yinland is short and un- 
satisfactory. The connexion both of it and the parent 
country with Iceland now became less intimate, and the 
notices of their affairs in the works of the annalists are 
more distant and meagre, till we at last lose sight of 
them altogether. In 1059, an| Iiish or Saxon .priest 
named John, who had been a missionary in Iceland, is 
said to have gone thither with the same laudable inten- 
tion, and to have been murdered by the heathen. 
£rik, sometimes called the first bishop of Greenland, is 
also reported to have sailed for this land in 1121 with 


the design of reclaiming the settlers, who were still 
heathen ; hut of his success no record renuuns, and it 
is very douhtfiil whether he ever arrived there. The 
last notice respecting America is an account of a voyage 
to Markland in 1347 hy a ship from Greenland, which, 
on its return, was driven hy a stoim to Straom Fiord 
in West Iceland. The scanty notices of this adventure 
only prove, that even till the middle of the fourteenth 
century an intercourse with that distant settlement was 
still maintained. The ultimate &te of the colonists is 
thus huried in ohscurity, though it is prohahle that, cut 
off from intercourse with their countrymen, they gra- 
dually amalgamated with the savages around them, 
which would more easily happen, as most of them seem 
to have heen idolaters. They may, however, have 
perished in those movements among the inhahitants of 
Noi'them America, which appear to have occurred ahout 
this time, and during which the Skrellings were forced 
northwards into Greenland hy more vigorous and warlike 
trihes. The traces of this colony on the coasts of Ame- 
rica are few and unsatisfactory ; nor is this wonderful 
when we consider their limited numbers, and that their 
mode of architecture was very far from being of the 
most durable nature. 

Besides these more direct voyages, there are some 
others mentioned, in which the Northmen are supposed 
to have reached the American shore, and which, as 
connected with the above history, and confirming 
its truth, we shall here shortly notice. The powerful 
Icelandic chief Are Marson was, in 983, driven by a storm 
to a country where he was baptized, which is supposed 
to be Hvitramannaland, or land of the white men, some- 
times named Irland It Mikla or Great Ireland, so called 
fipom an Irish Christian people who were settled there. 
This is believed to have been the coast of North Ame- 
rica, south of Chesapeak Bay ; and among the Shawanese 
Indians, who formerly dwelt in Florida, there is a tra- 
dition that their country was inhabited b}' a white people 
in possession of iron instruments. Gudlief Gudlaugson 


waSy at a later period, when retnming from Ireland, 
carried by a very strong north-east wind to an unknown 
region. They were surrounded by a crowd, who 
spoke a language resembling Irish ; and were deliberat- 
ing whether to kill them or make them slaves, when 
they were interrupted by the approach of an old gray- 
haired man, of a distinguished appearance. He ad- 
dressed Gudlief in the Norse language, and, learning 
that he was an Icelander, asked many questions about 
his acquaintance there, particularly Thurida of Frode 
and her son Kiartan. From this he was thought to be 
Biom Asbrandson, a celebrated Jomsvikingr, who had 
been compelled to leave Iceland owing to an illicit con- 
nexion with the lady just named. After consulting his 
companions, the white chieftain told the Northmen that 
they were at liberty to depart, advising them to make 
no delay. He gave them, at the same time, a gold ring for 
his beloved Thurida, and a sword for Kiartan, who was 
believed to be his own child. Gudlief found his way first 
to Dublin, and then to Iceland. From these accounts 
it has been supposed that there was occasionally an in- 
tercourse between this part of America and the western 
countries of Europe, especially the Orkneys and Ireland. 
Such is the history of Vinland given us by the 
Icelandic historians, which is interesting, not merely 
as connected with the countries of which we are now 
treating, but as proving that America was known to 
Europeans five hundred years before the Genoese ma- 
nner set foot upon its shores. No one can now represent 
this account, coming to us as it does through so many 
channels, as a fiction introduced into the old records. 
Its truth is also confirmed by the testimony of Adam 
of Bremen, nearly a contemporary, who says *Hhe 
Danish kiii^ (Svend Estrithson) also told me of another 
island discovered in that sea, called Vinland, from the 
quantity of grapes there found, and also fruitful in 
com."* To admit that an interpolation of such an 

• De Sittt Dan. cap. 246. 


extent has taken place in these chronicles would destroy 
all confidence in what they relate of other lands, and 
thus undermine the whole structure of northern history 
for many ages. The situation of Vinland has also given 
rise to many disputes among those who allow the truth 
of its dlBcovery, some placing it on the islands near 
Cape Farewell, in the southern part of Greenland, and 
others in Lahrador or Newfoundland. But the produc- 
tions of the country, the length of the day, and the 
appearance of the coast, which coincide in a remark- 
ahle manner with the descriptions of recent travellera^ 
fix it to the United States. In this view of the suhject, 
Helluland is Newfoundland, even yet remarkahle for 
its naked rocky barrens, where not a tree or shruh can 
grow. Markland, with its forests and white sandy 
cliffs, is Nova Scotia. Vinland is thus the countiy 
near Rhode Island, Kialames heing Cape Cod, Ejro»- 
sanes. Gurnet Point, and the Hop, where Thorfinn Karl- 
sefhe erected his dwellings, the present Mount Hope.* 
Ahout this time (1023) the Greenlandcrs are said to 
have hecome subject to Saint Olaf of Norway, but we 
have no information as to the manner in which this event 
happened, or of the conditions mutually agreed upon. It 
appears, however, to have been more nominal than real, 
consisting in the payment of some small tribute of the 
peculiar productions of the country, and to have soon 

* The publication of the Antiquitates AmericanaB by the Royal 
Society of Northern Antiauaries at Copenhagen supersedes all the 
more ancient works on tnis subject, and may bo considered u 
setting the question as to the truth of this discovery at rest. It 
contains a collection of the original documents, witn Danish and 
Latin translations, numerous notes and disauisitions, and an ab- 
stract of the historical evidence in Englisn. This last will be 
found in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, 
vol. viii. (1896), n. 114-129. Compare also Torfseus, Vinlandia 
Antiqua. Murray s Discoveries in North America, vol. i. p. 14-93. 
Wheaton's Northmen, p. 22-31 . The inscription on the Assonek- 
rock, considered as runic by Finn Magnusen, is far from being 
proved to be such. Some American writers, from comparin[| it 
with an extensive series of Indian hieroglyphics, think it identical 
in point of general character with these. See Amer. BibUc. Rep 
vol. rvii. (1839) p. 430. 

BJffMlter OF GREENLAND. 267 

eeased, when the Norwegians, mvolyed in other afiairs 
of more importance, did not think it of consequence 
to enforce ohedience. Some of the chronicles do not 
mention this defection, hat all agree that the Green- 
landers were left very much to themselves, living in 
a manner conformahle to the nature of the country, go- 
verned hy the Icelandic statutes, which they had brought 
along with them, and having, like the people of tliat 
island, one supreme ruler or judge. His authority, 
and that of &e laws, were however, in the early 
period of the settlement, frequently set at nought with 
impunity. Solemn engagements between private indi- 
viduals, hy which the one became bound to avenge the 
injuries or death of his associate, were very common, 
and the history of Greenland consists almost entirely of 
the tragical incidents they produced. The superstition, 
too, of the nation leading them, even after the worship 
of the heathen deities was abolished, to admit their 
existence and power, and to believe in the prophetic 
meaning of dreams and visions, increased the disorderly 
character of the age. He who had neglected to avenge 
the death of his friend, saw in the visions of the night 
the angry frown of Thor or Odin reproaching him with 
his degeneracy, or heard the feeble voice of his departed 
companion telling of his broken vow, and crying out 
for vengeance. Instigated by such feelings, the autho- 
rity of the judge was not merely disregarded or de- 
spised, but frequently insufficient to preserve his own 
person from the destroying hand of the assassin.* 

Although Christianity had now been established 
more than a century in Greenland, no bishop had yet 
been appointed. About the year 1122, however, Sock, 
a son of Thorer, who is thought to have been a de- 
scendant of Erik Raude, being jealous for the honour of 
his country, called an assembly of the people, where he 
represented the advantage of their having a bishop to 

* Torf. Gron. Ant. pp. 151-193, 242. Am. Jon. Spec. Isl. 
p. 149-153. 


themselves, like all other nations, with such eloquence 
that it was unanimously resolved to send an embassy to 
Norway to ask one from King Sigurd. This office de- 
volved on Einar, the son of Sock, a man of a bold, vio- 
lent temper, and great authority. He took with him a 
number of narwal's teeth, seal-skins, and other pro- 
ductions of the country, as presents to the nobles, and 
on his arrival obtained his majesty's consent, who also 
recommended a person to fill the office. This was Ar- 
nald, a priest distinguished for his character and learn- 
ing, whom the monarch entreated to accept the charge. 
After urging many reasons for refusing this honour, 
especially the distance from all advice and assistance, 
together with his inability to command such fierce and 
barbarous minds by the powers of persuasion alone, be 
at last consented to go, on Einar promising to protect 
to the utmost of his ability the rights and possessions 
of the church. Amald, provided by his royal patron 
with letters of recommendation, visited the Archbi^op of 
Lund, who consecrated him to his office, and, returning 
to Norway, departed with Einar, who had become a great 
favourite with the king, to whom he had given a Green- 
land bear. They were driven to Iceland by a storm, where 
they remained during the winter, and next summer ar- 
rived at Erik's Fiord. The bishop chose Grardar in that 
neighbourhood for the site of his episcopal residence, and 
was highly honoured by all the inhabitants, especially 
by old Sock and his son.^ 

At the same time that this prelate left Norway, an- 
other ship, commanded by a person named Ambiom, 
sailed from the same port bound on the same voyage, but 
imder less favourable auspices. The tempest which com- 
pelled the former to take refuge in Iceland cast the latter 

■ Torf. Gron. Ant. cap. 26, p. 217-222. Am. Jon. Spec. IsL 
pp. 147, 148. Erik, who is mentioned above as sailing to Vinland, 
IS said to have been Bishop of Greenland. His consecration is 
placed in 1121, the year before the events related above, bat as 
he never reached that country, probably his appointment had not 
become known there. 


on the uninhabited coast of Greenland, where the whole 
ciew perished from cold or &mine in a hut they had 
built on the side of a fiord. Sigurd Nialson, who was 
accustomed to frequent the desert parts of the country 
during the summer months for hunting and fishing, when 
about to return home in the autumn after the bishop's 
arrival, observed on the shore some remains of a fire and 
other traces of men. Obtaining the consent of his com- 
panions he explored the adjoining inlet, where at the 
mouth of a river they found two ships, and at a little dis- 
tance a hut fiill of merchandise and decaying bodies. They 
destroyed one of the vessels, which was too much injured 
to be repaired, and, loading the other with the goods, re- 
turned home, taking with them the bones of its former 
owners, that they might be committed to consecrated 
ground. Sigurd consulted with the bishop about the dis- 
posal of the property, when it was resolved that the ship 
should be given to the cathedral where the bodies had 
been buried, and the commodities they had preserved 
divided amongst the finders according to the established 
custom. When this was known in Norway, Aussur, a 
nephew of Ambiom, sailed to Greenland to obtain pos- 
session of his imcle's property. Here he lodged with 
Amald, who, however, refused to deliver up the ship, 
alleging that it rightly belonged to the church in con- 
sideration of the services rendered to its late owner ; 
and, on his application to the judges, he was equally 
unsuccessful, Einar, who opposed him, insisting that the 
question should be decided according to the laws of the 
country. Enraged at what he considered an unjust 
decision, Aussur damaged the vessel, when the bishop 
complained to his friend, reminding him of the oath 
which bound him to defend the interests of the church. 
Einar, feeling this as a reproach on his honour, resolved 
to be revenged, and soon after, meeting Aussur, killed 
him with the blow of an axe. His friends in vain endea- 
voured to obtain redress for the murder, and being 
soon after joined by some other Norwegians, they deter- 
mined to take by force what was denied them by law. 


and, going* in a 'body to an assembly of the natives where 
the assassin was present, one of them put him to death. 
A tumult arose m which several on botii sides were slain 
before the strangers could find refuge in their vessels. 
Thither old Sock wished to pursue them ; but others, 
more prudent, represented the doubtful result of the 
enterprise, the Norwegian ships being &r larger than any 
of their own. A treaty was then agreed upon, when the 
Greenlander, although very unwillingly, had to pay a 
compensation to his opponents, as the number of the 
foreigners who had fallen exceeded the slain among his 

After this disaster the bishop, prohably not relishing 
the rude manners of his flock, and deprived of Einat^s 
protection, returned to Norway. He never revisited his 
diocese, having been raised to the see of Hammar by the 
papal legate Nicholas Breakspear, at that tune in those 
northern parts. This was in 1152 ; but he had probably 
resigned hisformer charge at an earlier period, as we find 
his successor, Jon Knutr, consecrated two years previ- 
ously. Such an occurrence, however, was by no means 
rare in the annals of that country, the irregular com- 
munication with Europe often leaving them many years 
without an episcopal superintendent, whilst at others a 
new one was sent out, the primate not knowing whether 
the former was dead or still survived.* 

Knutr was succeeded in 1188 by another bishop, 
also named Jon, who died in 1209. In his time a Green- 
lander named Asmund Kastanrazr is reported to have 
sailed with twelve men from that country to Finmark, 
in a vessel joined together with wooden pins and the 
sinews of animals. Thence he went to Iceland on his 
way home, but after leaving it was never more heard of. 
Whatever we may think of the boldness of the under- 
taking, it gives no very high idea of the prosperity 
of the colony, where such vessels were common, and 

Torf. Gron. Ant pp. 222-239, 243, 244. 


inen could be found to risk their lives in them on so 
perilous a voyage.* 

Greenland was not reduced under complete subjec- 
tion to the Norwegian monarchs till 1261, after which 
time the judge or chief magistrate constantly acknow- 
ledged their authority. In the autumn of that year 
some Norwegians, who had been four seasons in the 
colony, returned home, and told that the inhabitants had 
agreed in future to pay tribute to the king. They also 
consented to pay him a fine for all murders committed, 
whether in the inhabited or uninhabited districts, and 
even for those that took place beneath the pole, — a 
clause chiefly remarkable as showing the opinion they 
entertained of the extent of their country. This was in 
the reign of Hakon the elder ; but, according to Clau- 
dius Lyschander, they immediately revolted, and his suc- 
cessor made no effort to reduce them to submission. He 
also adds that Erik Clipping, king of Denmark, indignant 
at the insult thus offered to the northern crowns, sent a 
fleet thither which reduced them again to obedience to his 
relation Erik of Norway. But Torfeus rejects this story, 
as founded on no authority, and inconsistent with other 
well-established facts.f 

Five years later some clergymen of Grardar under- 
took a voyage of discovery to the north, during which 
they are supposed to have visited those remote regions 
which have lately been again made known by the 
daring expeditions of British navigators. At that time 
aU men of any consequence in Greenland possessed large 
boats or ships, in which they were accustomed during 
the summer months to sail for hunting and fishing to 
the northern parts of the country named Nordrsetur, 
where, it appears, the ancestors of the present Esquimaux 
had not yet established themselves. Setting out from 
this high northern latitude, they were during several days 
driven before a south wind. When the fog which had 

• Torf. Gron. Ant. p. 244. 

t Ibid. pp. 246, 24d-2d0. Arn. Jon. Spec Isl p. 149. 


enveloped them for some time cleared away, they found 
themselves surroimded by many islands, on which were 
all kinds of prey, as seals, whales, and bears. They 
durst not land on account of these last, but thought 
they saw traces of the place having been formerly inha- 
bited by Skrellings. They penetrated to the extremity 
of the bay, where they were surrounded by icebergs or 
glaciers as far as the eye could reach. The sun was 
above the horizon the whole night, and, from the account 
they give of its altitude, it has been computed that they 
had reached the parallel of 75° 46', or a little to the 
north of Barrow's Strait.* 

From this time the records of these colonies become 
more scanty and uninteresting. Cut off from the rest 
of the world by a wide and dangerous ocean, their ooor- 
nexion with it was only maintained by one or two ships 
which made an annual voyage from Norway or Iceland. 
No internal events of importance happened after this 
period, and the natives, never having been addicted to 
literature or the muses, which alone can preserve the 
memory of such obscure communities, have left almost no 
trace of their existence behind. The list of their bishops 
given below is nearly the sole memorial of their sub8&> 
quent history, and it only now remains to point out the 
causes of their destruction and of the mystery that 
involves their fate.t 

* Antiq. Amer. Journal of Geog. Soc. vol. viii. p. 126. Torf. 
Gron. Ant pp. 28, 29. The data on which the above calculatioa 
is founded are very rude and uncertain. The Nordrsetur are sup- 
posed to be abotft Disco Island. Besides fishing and catching seak, 
they were also in the habit of collecting the drift-wood, which oo 
the west coast is never found above this island, though most abund- 
ant far north on the east coast. 

t Bishops of Greenland:— 1st, Erik, 1121 ; 2d, Amald, 1124- 
1152; 3d. Jon Knutr, 1150-1187; 4th, Jon, 1188-2209; 5th, 
Helgo, 1212-1230; 6th, Nicolas, 1234-1240; 7th. Ohif, 1246- 
•1280; 8th, Theodorick, 1288-1314; 9th, Amer, 1314-1325; 10th, 
Jon Skalle, according to Arngrim Jonas before the death of the 
former, but in 1343 byTorfaeus; 11th, Alpho, 1376-1378; 12th, 
Henry, about 1389; 13th, Andrew, sent in 1406 to succeed the 
former if dead, but not known if he ever arrived. Baron Holberg, 
in his History of Denmark, inserts four others, — Berthold, Gro- 


yaiious Teasons have been assigned for the total dis- 
appeaianoe of the Greenland colonies from the page of 
hirtoxy. About 1300, the pestflence known as the black 
dettth laged with such extreme violence in the north of 
Eozopey that of all the Norwegian prelates, Jon Skalle 
or the Bald, of Greenland, and another named Orm, alone 
sorviyed. This terrible visitation is supposed to have 
reached the shores of this far-diBtant land, and diminished 
its scattered population. This is only conjecture ; but 
it is well known to have been extremely fatal in Trond- 
helm, where it had been carried by an English ship ; and 
as that port had the chief trade with Greenland, it con- 
firms ihe opinion of those who state that the regular 
annual communication with that colony was now discon- 
tinued* The death of Bishop Alpho, in 1378, was not 
known in the mother-country till six years afterwards, 
and then only by accident, an Icelandic vessel having been 
driven on the coast by a tempest. This neglect, to what- 
ever cause we may ascribe it, must have proved very inju- 
rious to the welfare of the colonists, who were thus cut off 
from all intercourse with the civilized world, deprived of 
their usual supplies of bread and other necessaries, and 
left to subsist on the produce of their flocks and the un- 
certain gains of the fisheries. Atthis critical period (1379) 
the Skrellings, or Esquimaux, formerly known in Yin- 
land, first appeared in the vicinity of the West Bygd. 
They attacked the colony, killed eighteen of the inhabi- 
tants^ and carried off two boys to the mountains. So re- 
duced was its population, that when assistance was sent 
firom the East Bygd to expel the intruders, not a human 
being remained in the district. Sheep and cattle, how- 
ever, in considerable numbers, were found feeding in 
the pastures, and the deputation having killed as many 
of these as they could convey in their ships, returned 

gnrjf Andrew, and Jon, — ^between Alpho and Henry mentioned 
above. A brief of Pope Eusenius is also extant, dated 1433, in 
which he nominates a priest of the name of Bartholomy to succeed 
the deceased Bishop Nicolas in the see of Greenland. Torf. 
Gron. Ant. p. 241-266. Arn. Jon. Spec. IsL pp. 148, 149. 


home. No attempt was afterwards made to regain pos- 
session of the y estr Bygd, and the Skrellings continued 
to occupy it in peace.* 

The Austr Bygd, always the more densely peopled 
and thriving of tiie two, continued to exist for some time 
longer. But the injudicious policy of the Danish sove- 
reigns, to whom it had now heen transferred along with 
Norway, soon completed its destruction. Together with 
Iceland, Faroe, Finmark, and some other places, it was 
regarded as the private property of the crown, and no 
one was allowed to trade there without a royal license ; 
though the length and dangers of the Yoyage, the small 
profits thence to be derived, and the disturbed condition of 
the northern kingdoms, rendered this privilege scazcely 
worth soliciting. About the year 1389, some ships hav- 
ing been driven to Greenland by a storm, Queen Maiga- 
ret, on their return, commenced a prosecution against 
their owners. They were indeed acquitted, but the mer- 
chants were so disgusted with the impediments thus 
thrown in their way, as well as discouraged by nume- 
rous shipwrecks, that they withdrew &om tlie trade 
altogether. The government, now removed from Norway 
to Denmark, was so distracted by other more impor- 
tant affairs, that they had no leisure to attend to the 
commerce they had thus monopolized. In 1406, it was 
resolved to send out a prelate, named Andrew, to succeed 
Bishop Henry, if he were dead, for even that was un- 
known, but it is uncertain whether he ever went, or what 
became of him if he did go. The Danish crown then 
passed to foreign princes, who, intent only on their own 
immediate interests, entirely disregarded those distant 
possessions of the country. From a letter of Pope Nicho- 
las V. in 1448, we learn, that about the beginning of 
the fifteenth century, a fleet of their pagan neighbouTB 
had cruelly wasted the colony, killing or carrying off 
most of the able-bodied men, so that divine worship had 
almost ceased. He therefore entreats the Icelandic 

* Torfieus, Gron. Ant. pp. 42, 51. Hist. Ncr. torn. iv.p. 478. 


bishops, to whom this epistle is addressed, to take pity 
on their wretched countrymen, and if possible to send 
some qualified person to preside over their spiritual 
concerns. We do not .know the result of this letter, 
but in 1461, another Andrew, who had been sent to 
Gardar, though probably he never reached that place, 
occupied for some time the see of Skalholt, in Ice- 
land. It is stated, that in 1484 there were still sailors 
at Bergen trading to Greenland, but having then be^i 
all poisoned, no others were found to supply their place. 
In 1494, Pinning, well known as a pirate, and afterwards 
gOYcmor of Iceland, is said by Olaus Magnus to have 
inhabited the rock Hvidsierk, frpm whence he plunder- 
ed the ships in the surrounding seas. With these 
floattered notices, which are of importance, as showing 
that some intercourse with the Greenland colonies con- 
tinned throughout the whole fifteenth century, they 
vanish from the Danish records, and we are left to 
conjecture the fiite of the miserable inhabitants. Their 
descendants were long supposed to exist in some of the 
bays on the eastern coast, but it is more probable that, 
when thus deprived of etW support from their country- 
men^ they were destroyed by the savages or amalga- 
ma(ted with them.* 

Could we confide in the native traditions, the closing 
scene in the history of this deserted people would be 
laid open, and as the narrative is not improbable in itself, 
we shall here relate it, as communicated to Arctander 
by the Esquimaux. Many winters after the Icelanders 
had been extirpated every where else, a body of them, 
subject to an old man of extraordinary size and strength, 
dwelt in the firth of Igaliko. This was the name of the 
chief, who, besides several sons of mature age,' had one as 
yet but a child. His countrymen's respect only increased 
the hostility of the natives, and many fruitless attempts 
were made to destroy him, his opponents always sufier- 

• Torfeas, Gron. Ant. prasf. p. 23-26. Crantz, vol. i. p. 347. 
La Peyrere's Account of Greenund, Churchill, vol. ii. p. 390. 


ing for their temerity. Daring the suimner monthly 
the wind generally blows from tiie sea into these firths^ 
and a new stratagem for exterminating their foes was 
thus suggested to the Greenlanders. Their bravest war- 
riors, clad in white skins and armed with lances, har- 
poons, arrows and combustibles^ couching down in some 
of their large boats, suffered them to drift into the inlet 
before the wind. The colonists saw the fleet, but suppos- 
ing it merely pieces of floating ice, took no precautions. 
At midnight it reached the shore, when the Esquimaux 
leaping out, set fire to the dwellings, slaying the inmates 
whilst they attempted to escape. All perished save Igaliko 
and his youngest son ; for the aged chieffcain, catching the 
child in his arms, broke through his enemies and fled 
with him to the hills. Thither none of them ventured 
to pursue him, and his subsequent fate is unknown.* 

The same causes which led to the original loss of these 
colonies, long prevented any active measures for their 
Tecovery. The foreign princes who at that time ruled 
in Denmark, held their throne by too precarious a tenure, 
and were too much occupied with domestic affiurs, to 
regard the interests of such distant possessions, whence 
they could expect neither money nor power. It was 
not, therefore, till the reign of Christian II. (1518-1523) 
that public attention was again directed to them by 
the celebrated Archbishop of Trondheim, Erik Walck- 
endorff. This prelate collected all the information con- 
cerning them contained in the ancient writings^ or still 
existing in tradition among the merchants, for he could 
find no one who had ever visited them. Having firom 
these materials constructed a chart, and drawn up direc^- 
tions for navigating those seas, he proposed to the go- 
vernment to bear the whole expense of rediscovery, and 
of again establishing an intercourse with these land£^ on 
condition of enjoying a monopoly of the trade for ten 

* Graah, p. 42. This was in the district of Juliana's Hope. Does 
not the chiefs fleeing to the hills, that is, towards the east coast, 
and the Greenlanders not pursuing him thither, look as if both ex- 
pected him to find assistance there ? 


yeeas. But this ofi«r was rejected^ and the archhishop 
fidling into dii^graoe through the influence of his enemy 
Sflgbrity travelled to Rome, where he ended liis days. 

During the reign of Frederick I., who died in 1533, 
though Greenland was not totally foigotten, yet nothing 
was done fi)r its recovery ; hut his successor Christian IIL 
both repealed Queen Margaret's prohibitory laws, and, 
though without success, sent out several ships for its re- 
discovery. In 1578, Frederick II. despatched thither the 
fiunous navigator Mogens Heinson, or, as he is sometimes 
named, Magnus Henningsen. He had a prosperous 
voyage till he came in sight of the eastern coast, when he 
was first involved in ice and fogs, and afterwards found 
his vessel stopped all at once, though in an unfathom- 
able sea with a fair wiod. Finding his endeavours to 
draw near the shore in vain, he was seized with terror, 
and returned home, where he imputed his bad success 
to a magnet coDcetded in the bed of the ocean. Some 
blamed the remora fish, which had held his ship back 
with its teeth, whilst others, less charitable, thought 
that the repelling power was to be found in his fear of 
the ice, or in his attachment to home. Recent observa- 
tions^ however, on the extraordinary refractive proper- 
ties of the atmosphere in those latitudes, and on the 
currents there, ofier an explanation more honourable to 
the character of tbis truly brave but unfortunate mari- 
ner, though less romantic or marvellous than his own.* 

* Mogens is supposed to have been a native of Faroe, and was 
at first a merchant. He wan then employed bv the Kinff of Den- 
mark in clearing the North Sea of pirates, in which duty he showed 
great bravery, and was in high favour with Frederick 1 1., who sent 
mm on the voyage related above. His fame procured him many 
enemies, and in 1588, during the minority of Cnristian IV., he was 
condemned on a false accusation, and beheaded Two years after- 
wards, Lindenow, judge of North Jutland, procured a reversal of 
this sentence, and his accusers were fined 3000 rix-doUars. His 
body was removed to Jutland with great pomp, Lindenow writing 
a punning epitaph on his name, Magnus or Great, of which the 
first two lines in English are as follows : — 

** God*s Greatest majesty gave me of Great the name, 
As a Great sign I should in time come to Great fame." 

Debes Fsroa Reserata, p. 245. 


The voyages of Martin Frobisher and of John Davis, 
who, towards the close of the sixteenth century, were 
sent by the British government for the discovery of 
a north-west passage, though unsuccessful in their im- 
mediate object, added considerably to our knowledge 
of Greenland. The former was the first in modem 
times who landed on the coast, and observed the nature 
of its productions and the character of its inhabitants. 
He has, however, been regarded as having mistaken 
Cape Farewell for an island, and Labrador for Greenland, 
thus originating the story of the straits bearing his name, 
which were supposed to intersect this country, and were 
long looked for in vain.* The discovery of I^vis' Straits 
by the latter first made known the true structure of the 
laud, and its separation from the American continent, 
with which the old maps represent it as continuous. 
These voyages, however, having already found a place in 
a former part of this work, to which they have a closer 
affinity, we shall not detain the reader with any fiuiher 
notice of them.t 

The Danish admiral, Grodske Lindenow, sent by his 
government in 1605, made few additions to the geogra- 
phy of those northern regions. He cast anchor on the 
eastern coast, and commenced a trade with the natives, 
bartering iron, looking-glasses, and other articles for bear 
and seal skins, and concluded by seizing two men whom 
he carried with him to Denmark. He was accompanied 
on this voyage by James Hall, an Englishman, who had 
the command of another ship ; but he soon separated from 
his consort and steered for Davis' Straits, where he landed 
and made a chart of the coast. He found the inhabitants 
here much more fierce and savage than on the opposite 
side, for having seized four of them, they made so des- 
perate a resistance that he was compelled to put one to 
death before the others could be got on board. Their 
countr3anen assembled to rescue them from the strangers, 

* Zabrtroann, Jour. Geog. Soc. vol. y. p. 108. 
t Edinburgh Cabinet Library, No. I. Polar Seas and Regions, 
4th edition, p. 193«222. 


but were soon dispersed by a discharge of musketry and 
cannon. These captives are said to have had no resem- 
blance in form or language to those brought ^m the 
other coast by the admiral. The unfortunate beings thus 
torn away fiom home and kindred lived many years in 
Denmark, where they were employed in fishing. Never 
reconciled to their captivity, they constantly looked to 
the north with a mournful countenance and melancholy 
sighs. Several times they escaped in their kayaks, but 
were overtaken or driven back by the winds. One fled 
and was never heard of more, probably perishing in the 
wide ocean ; two others soon died of grie^ whilst the 
remainder lingered out a wretched life for ten or twelve 
years, ill treated, and forced to fish for peaiis even in 
the winter. One of them is reported to have wept bitterly 
whenever he saw a woman and child, whence it was 
thought he had been married in his own country ; for 
no pains were taken to acquire a knowledge of their 
language, or to instruct them in the Danish, so as to 
obtain any information from them. 

lindenow made a second voyage thither the following 
year, but with no better results. He entered Davis' 
Straits, and approached the shore in several places ; but 
the natives^ probably warned by the fate of their friends, 
would hold no communication with the ships. One of 
his servants ventured on shore, thinking to allure them 
by presents, but they cut him to pieces with their 
knives made of the teeth of the narwal, before he could 
be rescued. 

The hope of again finding the colonies, and the expec- 
tation of extracting gold from the rocks, originally ex- 
cited by the yellow shiniug appearance of some iron 
pyrites, induced the Danish government to persevere in 
these attempts. Accordingly the king sent out Carsten 
Rikardsen in 1 607 ; but the ice prevented his approach to 
the land, and it is not even ascertained to which side he 
directed his course. In 1619, Jens Munk sailed with a 
view to discover the north-west passage ; but he is now 
believed not to have touched at Greenland. The next 


expedition was a private undertaking of some merchants, 
under the patronage of the chancellor FruSy the delusive 
hope of extracting gold from the sulphuret of iron being 
again the impelling motive. Two ships were loaded 
with this worthless mineral, which, after being assayed, 
was all thrown into the sea. Some teeth of the narwal, 
or horns of the sea-unicorn as they were then called, 
proved a more successful speculation, having been valued 
in Copenhagen at £1200, and sold in Russia as those of 
the limd-animal of the same name. Two of the natives, 
kidnapped according to the barbarous custom of the 
period, when allowed to come on deck, in the middle 
of the ocean, sprung into the waves in the vain hope of 
swimming to their native land. 

David Dancl, in the reign of Frederick in., like his 
predecessors, added little to our knowledge of Uie coun- 
try, and nothing towards settling the question of the 
situation of the colonies. In two voyages, in 1652 and 
1653, he passed to the north of Iceland, and, coming in 
sight of the Greenland coast in latitude 66^ or 67^, 
sailed along it at a distance varying from eight to sixty 
miles, but without landing. In his first voyage he ran 
into Davis' Straits, and traded with the natives ; and 
in a third to the same place in 1654, he inhimianly car- 
ried off three women, — a circumstance not foi^otten by 
the inhabitants when the missionary arrived. Of the 
expedition of Otto Axelsen in 1670 we know nothing 
but the date ; and the ships sent from Bergen in 1674 
having been captured by privateers, nothing was heard 
of the country for many years.* 

The next attempt, dictated by higher feelings^ de- 
servedly led to a more favourable result. Its projector 
was Hans Egede, clergyman of Vaagen in Norway, with 
whose labours the second era in the social history of 
Greenland properly commences. Unlike his predeces- 
sors, he was led thither by no hope of personal profit, 

* La Peyrere's Account of Greenland. Churchill, toL ii. pp. 
391^101. Torf. Gron. Ant. Prarf. pp. 27-37. Crantz, ?oL i. 
251.256. Graah,pp. 7-11. 


but impelled by a strong desire to difiiise the light of 
religion among its natives, and a cordial sympathy which 
• niade him look upon it as the duty of every Norwe- 
gian to search out his forlorn countrymen, and to carry 
the gospel to them." The philanthropic and Christian 
motives of this undertaking were the best pledge of its 
success, and to it we owe the establishment of the Dan- 
ish colonies on the western coast, and most of our know- 
ledge of that region. 

Side's thoughts were first directed to this subject in 
1708, when, collecting all the information he could pro- 
cure from books or the sailors who frequented those 
seas, he addressed a memorial to the bishops of Trond- 
heim and Bei^en, entreating them to procure the esta- 
blishment of a mission to Greenland. This proposal 
exposed him to much ridicule and slander ; but in 1718, 
having resigned his living, he proceeded with his wife 
and four children to Copenhagen, where, after many 
delays, his eloquence and piety at last prevailed. In 
1721, an expedition was ready to sail, to which he was 
appointed minister, with a salary of sixty pounds a-year, 
and forty for his equipment. He sailed on the 12th of 
May along with forty-six persons, and arriving safe on 
the dd July at Baal's River, they built on Hope Island a 
house of stones and earth, lined with wood. 

The natives at first received them kindly ; but, per- 
ceiving their intention of remaining, withdrew from the 
district, and used many spells to cause them to depart. 
Egede, however, soon convinced them of his friendly 
intentions, and applied himself to learn their language 
and instruct them in Christianity. This was extremely 
difficult owing to their ignorance and the want of proper 
words to convey his meaning, yet by the aid of pictures 
drawn by his son, he succeeded in imparting to them a 
knowledge of the principal facts of Scripture history. 
They then began to regard him as an ambassador from 
God, and wished him to cure their sick by blowing on 
them like the native conjurors. Two oiphan boys, also, 
whom he had taken into his house to instruct, soon left 


him, remarking, that they saw no use in learning, that 
he and the merchants were worthless people who did 
nothing but look in a book and scrawl with a feather, but 
that their countrymen were brave men, who could hunt 
seals and shoot birds. 

Many difficulties of another kind were also to be en- 
countered ; fish and game being scarce, and the natives 
unwilling to trade with them, it was only his firmness 
and hope of better times that preserved the colony fix)m 
total ruin. Whenever the provision ships were delayed, 
the Europeans began to murmur ; and many of the na- 
tives, who for a time seemed to listen to his instructions^ 
had no sooner obtained some private end than they 
withdrew to other parts of the country. Another mi»- 
sionary arrived in 1723, who endeavoured to found a 
settlement farther north ; but it was soon relinquished, 
and on the death of Frederick IV., its great patron, an 
order was issued for the breaking up of the establish- 
ment, and the return of all the people. 

Although Egede and as many as chose were permitted 
to remain with a year's provisions, yet, as he was told 
to look for no farther assistance, he could only expeet 
the abandonment of the colony, and the loss of ten years' 
assiduous labour. None of the people would consent to 
stay, and it was only after the ship was found too small 
that the captain permitted ten seamen to remain vdth 
him a year. In this discouraging state, the missionary 
continued his labours till next summer, when a vessel 
was sent with provisions, but with no promise of future 
support. He was however relieved from this suspense 
by the arrival of another, in 1733, with the intelligence 
that the king had resolved to continue the trade to 
Greenland and maintain the mission. 

The rediscovery of the lost colonies on the eastern coast 
had been a principal object in sending out these expedi- 
tions. Soon after their arrival, the ruins of a church 
and houses, supposed to be those of the West Bygd, were 
discovered, and traditions of former inhabitants collected 
among the natives. Attempts were also made to pene- 


irate across the country to that coast, but the ice and 
precipices soon convinced the adventurers of the futility 
of such undertakings. In 1723, Egede was ordered to 
send some resolute sailors thither, and being desirous of 
seeing the duty &ithfully performed, he resolved to ac- 
company them himself. They succeeded in reaching the 
soutiiem extremity of the mainland, when he was in- 
duced by the lateness of the season and the representa- 
tions of the Greenlanders to return. The natives on 
the journey pointed out many fiords where ruins of old 
Norwegian buildings, line pastures, and brushwood were 
to be found, but the voyage did nothing to dispel the 
dark clouds that involved this mysterious question. 

The ship which brought to Egede the encouraging in- 
formation of the king's intention to continue the colony, 
also brought new labourers to aid in the task of con- 
verting the heathen Greenlanders. These were three 
Moravian brethren who had formed an ardent desire of 
becoming missionaries in that dreary land. They erected 
a house near the Danish colony, named New Hermhut, 
and applied themselves with great diligence to learn the 
language. This proved a task of far greater difficulty 
to them than to their predecessor, although they had 
his assistance, owing to the want of the most com- 
mon grammatical ideas, even in regard to their own lan- 
guage. By great labour, however, they succeeded 
so far as to be able to converse with the natives, and, 
notwithstanding many obstacles, persevered in their 
benevolent endeavours. Egede continued in the country 
till 1736, when his wife, who had supported him amidst 
all his trials, having died the preceding winter, and be- 
ing himself seized with a severe illness, he returned 
to Denmark. Here, as the reward of his philanthropic 
labours, he wbs appointed superintendent of the Green- 
land mission, with a salary of £100 aryear. He was at 
the same time ordered to found a seminary for instruct- 
ing students, mostly orphans, in the Esquimaux lan- 
guage, who were afterwards to be employed as teachers 
in that country. But the toils he had undergone abroad 


were found to have injured his constitution^ and he spent 
his last years in retirement on the island of FaUter, 
where he died in 1758, honoured and respected for his 
labours in the cause of Christian benevolence* 

The history of these missions, from the departure of 
Egede to the present time, though replete with interest, 
is not of such a nature as to bear abridgment. Their 
progress in converting the heathen, though slow at firsts 
was, year after year, crowned with increasing success. 
The rude uncultivated minds of the natives, enlarged 
by intercourse with more civilized men, became better 
fitted and more capable of understanding the truths <^ 
the gospel ; and the zeal of the venerable Egede, which 
had first attached the Greenlanders to the Danes, con- 
tinued to operate in their favour. The two classes of 
missionaries also lived together in the greatest harmony, 
only contending who should be most diligent and success- 
ful in promoting their common purpose, and not allow- 
ing any unworthy jealousy to interrupt their endeavours. 
Their lives were those of great labour and exertion, 
being often in their numerous journeys exposed to much 
danger from the ice and uncertainty of the weather. 
Thus, on one occasion, in the month of June, two of the 
Moravians having gone to an uninhabited island for drift- 
wood, were surrounded by the ice, and detained on this 
dreary spot a fortnight. They subsisted on fish, and 
at length made their way at the peril of their lives 
through the shoals to the mainland, from whence they 
travelled on foot to the mission, having been absent a 
whole month.t Nor do the comforts of their dwellings 
compensate for the privations they endure in such ex- 
cursions. Tliough better built and more commodious 
than the Greenland huts, they are, from the nature of 
the climate, far from convenient ; and firewood, which 
is usually scarce, can seldom be procured without the ut- 
most difficulty. 

* Egede's Relation. Crantz's History of Greenland. 
-(■ Crantz, yol. ii. p. 267* 


The war in the beginning of this centuiy reduced the 
Beveral colonies to great straits, as they are entirely de- 
pendent on foreign supplies for all the comforts of life. 
From 1807, when the last regular supplies reached 
them, they had endured many privations owing to the 
want of the most common necessaries. Linen and to- 
bacco, the latter the money of the colony, became scarce, 
and many of the inhabitants were reduced to the neces- 
sity of supporting life by eating small herrings, muscles, 
and seaweed. It may easily be imagined how soon this 
state of things, had it continued, would have extirpated 
the Europeans, or brought them down to the level of 
the savages with whom they associated. But from this 
distressing condition they were relieved in 1811 by the 
British government, who generously granted to the 
Danes every fetcility of supplying their colonies with 
provisions, and from that time intercourse with the 
mother-country has been subject to no interruption. 

The inhabitants of Greenland, as appears from the 
preceding history, belong to two different races, — ^the 
European colonists, few in number and seldom remain- 
ing long in the country, and the natives or Esqui- 
maux. The origin and first appearance of the latter 
are involved in considerable obscurity, though it seems 
certain that they had not arrived when the Norwegians 
occupied those coasts. Torfsus says that they w^re 
first observed in 1379, at which time they received the 
name of Skrellings, formerly applied to the savages met 
with in Vinland. From the history of the voyages 
related in a former part of this chapter, it is manifest that 
they then inhabited districts as far south as the territory 
of the United States. When, however, the Europeans, 
about five centuries afterwards, again landed on those 
shores, they found them occupied by a totally different 
race, the ancestors of the present American Indians. 
These at that period possessed the whole southern part of 
the continent, whilst their predecessors had taken refuge 
in the inhospitable regions of the north, which the Nop- 


wegians had previously fonnd uninhabited. It was pro- 
bably these migrations which destroyed the colony of 
Vinland, and, forcing some wandering bands of Esqui- 
maux into Greenland, were also instrumental in rooting 
out the Icelanders from that country. The date of these 
events is thus fixed to the beginning of the fourteenth 
century ; and though it may seem rash even to conjec- 
ture their cause, we cannot avoid supposing it in some 
way connected with the great revolutions which, to- 
wards the conclusion of the previous century, occurred 
among the Tartar tribes of northern Asia, and extended 
their destroying sway from Poland on the west to the 
eastern shores of the celestial empire.* 

Similarity in physical structure and customs would 
lead us to ascribe a common origin to most of those 
tribes who in both continents frequent the shores of the 
polar seas, to whose vicinity they are closely confined, 
either by necessity or choice. The entire want of his- 
torical documents, or even of ruder memorials, leaves us 
ignorant of the first settlement or subsequent migrations 
of this hyperborean race. Though separated by such 
an immense distance, the intimate connexion of the 

* It i« carious to see the present Indians subjected to the same 
fate by contact with the European colonists, the weak race alwap 
yielding or perishing before the strong. We cannot refrain from 
quoting the following remarks of a distinguished author, which 
unintentionally confirm this view of the subject. ** There ap- 
pears to be a tendency to extinction among all the sayage nations, 
and this tendency would seem to have been in operation among 
the aboriginals of this country (America) long before the advent ot 
the white men, if we may judge from the traces and traditions of 
ancient populousness in regions that were silent and deserted at 
the time of the discovery ; and from the mysterious and perplexing 
vestiges of unknown races, predecessors of those found in actuu 
possession, and who must long since have become gradually extin- 
guished or been destroyed. The whole history of the aboriginal 
population of this country, however, is an enigma, and a grand 
one— will it ever be solved?" Irving*8 Astoria, vol. ii. p. 74, 
According to Clavigero( Hist. Mex. tom. ii. diss. 21.), the Aztecas 
entered Mexico from the north in a. n. 1178-1196, probably 
about the same period when the Lenni Lenape and other tribes 
arrived on the east coast. Compare Prichard's Researches, voU ii. 
book viii. 


Esquimaux language with that of the Tchougazes^ and 
other northern Asiatic tribes, renders it probable that 
they originally came from the same region. As they must 
haye passed into America by Behring^s Straits, and tra- 
versed the whole northern portion of that continent, we 
may thus easily account for the lateness of their appear- 
ance in Greenland. The influence of climate, food, and 
manner of life, has caused them to vary considerably 
from all the great races of mankind, so that whilst some 
refer them to the Mongolian type, others consider them 
as intermediate between that and the American, or as 
a degenerate ofiset from the Caucasian stock. The 
latter opinion la favoured by the white colour of their 
skins, which essentially distinguishes them from all 
other American tribes, with whom, on the other hand, 
they are closely connected by the peculiar structure of 
their speech. 

The name the Greenlanders give themselyes is In- 
nuit, that is, men or human beings, as distinguished both 
from foreign nations, and from the lower animals. This 
seeming presumption in regarding themselves as the 
models or representatives of mankind arises more from 
ignorance than national vanity, and is £eu* from being 
supported by the beauty or elegance of their persons. 
The tallest among them rarely exceed five feet, their 
mean height being only four feet three inches. Though 
well proportioned, they are by no means vigorous or 
athletic, and are in general much inclined to obesity, 
with a full fleshy person and prominent paunch. They 
have broad flat faces, high cheek-bones, black, diminu- 
tive, inanimate eyes, small noses, a round contracted 
mouth with thick under lip, and a profusion of coarse 
coal-black hair hanging in long elfin locks about their 
reddish-brown countenances. Their bodies, now dark 
gray, though originally white, exhale an oily effluvium 
almost intolerable to a European, whilst their hands, 
generally small, are clammy like a piece of blubber. 
The natives of the southern and eastern coasts are, how- 
over, handsomer than the others, with expressive looks^ 


and slender or eyen meagre persons; many of tht 
women and children have brown hair, and when the filth 
and dirt are remoyed, show a complexion scarcely leM 
fair than that of oar peasantry. Graah observed soms 
females whose delicate fonns, regular features^ dear, 
ruddy complexion, and long brown hair, fully entitled 
them to the epithet of beautifuL Such appeaiancea^ 
especially the light hair, inclining in several instances 
to reddish, might lead us to suspect that these tribes 
are in some maimer connected with the lost Norwe- 
gians, though our author rejects this opinion. If they 
are a pure Esquimaux race, they strongly confirm the 
idea that this people are a Caucasian not a Mongolian 

Like most other savage nations^ among whom the 
gratification of the mere animal propensities is the 
only inducement to action, the Greenlanders are indo- 
lent and listless. Though good-humoured, friendly, 
and sociable, they are seldom lively or inclined to in- 
dulge in mirth, and can scarcely be roused £rom their 
apathy either by curiosity or passion. They are accord- 
ingly nttle disposed to quarrel or fight ; blows or even 
angry words are seldom exchanged ; and they live in 
great harmony, more influenced by kindness than by 
harsh treatment. Changeable to an extreme degree, their 
most favourite projects are resigned on the smallest 
unexpected obstacle. Endowed with little reach <ff 
extent of intellect, their thoughts and cares are al- 
most entirely confined to the present, and they spend 
their limited stock of provisions without reflecting on 
future wants, or waste the best season of the year in 
hunting rein-deer, for skins to gratify the vanity of tlieir 
wives and daughters. When not compelled by absolute 
necessity, they pass whole days in sleep, or sit thought- 
ful and dejected on some lofty eminence watching the 
changes of the sea and sky, or forecasting the toils and 

* Crantz, vol. i. p. 123. Egede, Nat. Hist. Greenland, p. !!& 
Graah, pp. 70, 73, 88, 115. 


ra of the chase. Vanity, both personal and national, 
their strongest passion : unable to estimate the 
tages of others, they esteem no people equal to 
lelves, no title h%herthan to be a Greenlander. The 
lattering compliment they can pay to a stranger is 
', ** He is almost as well bred as we," or, " He be- 

be a man" or ^' Innuit," that is, a Greenlander. 
durite amusement among them is to exhibit cari- 
id imitations of the manners of the Kablunaet or 
ners. Even those who have been in Denmark 
• their naked steril rocks to every other country, 
ill hardly confess that Europeans are so happy as 

complaining that at Copenhagen there is not 
n enough, and no reasonable degree of cold, 
aperate, modest, and little disposed to anger, 
least skilful in concealing it, crimes are rare 

1 them. When injured they remain dumb and 
1, hidiQg their passion till an opportunity of re- 
occurs, from which, when once exasperated, no 

r can deter them. When a parent has been mur- 
. it is an established priaciple that his descendants 
•ivenge him, at however distant an interval ; though 
ices of their destroying each other are rare, except 
;ard to those unhappy persons who are accused of 
craft. When this crime is held to have been proved 
retched victim is called out of the house or tent, 
ed with being an Hliseetsok, stabbed and cut to 
I ; each of the executioners eatiag a part of the heart 
tvent their being troubled with the ghost of the 
ered person. It is usually the old and infirm, who 
QO children to protect or avenge them, that suffer 
ite, and as often, it is thought, from mere malice 
m any belief in their supernatural power, 
eir morality, indeed, seems very much of a 
I nature, and, like most savages, they have one 
f dealing with their own countrymen, and another 
foreigners. Hence though stealing, beiag much 
.ed, is not common among themselves, they make 
scruple in appropriating any thing belonging to 


Btrangers, especially nails, tobacco, breads or a piece of 
their fayoiirite delicacy, a tallow candle. They ore 
also adepts in dissimulation, and so little scmpiilous 
about truth, that they tell lies wheneyer it seems 
for their advantage. Though far from being destitate 
of natural affection to their relations, they baye no 
feelings of humanity towards the rest of mankind, but 
with the utmost indifference suffer widows and orphans 
to perish, who have no friends to provide for them. 
Such insensibility is however partly oocasioned by thdr 
situation, which exposes even the most active and vigor- 
ous amongst them to innumerable privations. 

This deficiency in moral principle is &r from being 
compensated by that mixture of superstition and ab- 
surdity which constitutes their sole religion. The oi^ 
of the world and of mankind, some traditionaiy opinions 
concerning which have been met with in almost eveiy 
corner of the globe, has never engaged their thoughts. 
The belief in a Deity has also nearly vanished frimi 
their minds, no word with this meaning, it is said, 
being found in their language ; and no prayers or appa- 
rent worship of any kind is practised by the unoonverted. 
They nevertheless maintain the spirituality and future 
existence of the soul, blended with many strange in- 
consistencies. There is also a good, though mortal, 
spirit, Tomgarsuk, described sometimes as of small 
stature, no bigger than one's finger ; at others as a 
giant with one arm, or as an immense white bear. Be- 
sides this spirit there are others less powerful, genii of 
the fire, water, and air, the last of whom instructs 
them through the angekkoks what it is necessary for 
their happiness to peiform or avoid. Tomgarsuk has 
also a wife or mother, the personification of the evil 
principle, who lives at the bottom of the ocean, guarded 
by fierce seals, with sea-birds swimming in her train-oil 
lamps, and surrounded by flocks of the finny tribes^ 
spell-bound by her beauty, and only disenchanted when 
the magician, seizing her by the hair, tears off her head- 
dress. As an instcmce of her power, it is related that 


die towed the island of Disco from Baal's River to its 
present situation, some hundred miles &rther north; 
and the hole in a rock is still pointed out to which her 
line was &stened. The angekkoks, who are rather 
magicians than priests, have great influence over the 
natiyeSy who consult them on erery difficulty, as the 
heathen of old had recourse to the oracles. They have a 
peculiar language of their own, and are ahle,itissaid, from 
long-continued observation, to foretell the changes of the 
weather some days before they occur, — an acquirement of 
Tast importance among a people dependent on the sea and 
winds for their food. In sickness, the angekkok is the 
only physician, prescribing either a peculiar diet, or the 
use of some strange ceremonies or amulets. He also 
secures to them a plentifril supply of fish or game, and, 
consulting his familiar spirit, informs them as to the 
health or fortune of their absent friends. With all this 
outward respect, there is mingled a great degree of scep- 
ticism, whidi appears in their private meetings, where 
they mimic and turn into ridicule the ceremonies of 
th^ conjurors, not sparing Tomgarsuk himself ; and 
in those parts of Greenland where the missions have 
been longest established few or none of these impostors 
are now found.* 

One of the most curious facts in regard to this 
people is, that whilst their moral and religious opinions 
impose little or no restraint on the indulgence of their 
passions, this defect is not remedied by any external 
form of government. The Arctic Highlanders of Ross 
were subject to a chief who shared the profits of the 
fishery or chase ; but this approach to social order is un- 
known farther south. Whatever virtues they possess 
are therefore entirely spontaneous, the laws or customs 
x^^ulating their intercourse with each other having no 
sanction except public opinion. This curious pheno- 
menon has not met with that attention it deserves^ 

* Crantz, vol. i. pp. 125, 181-200. Egede, pp. 123, 125, 179- 
202. Saabye's Greenland, p. 47-50. Graah, pp. 75, 116-124. 


though we conceive its explanation may be found in 
the peculiar circumstances of the people. Property 
among them is altogether personal, no piece of ground, 
no portion of the sea, being appropriated to any parti- 
cular village or tribe. In tibe absence of public property 
war is unknown, and hence the two greatest motives 
for union do not exist. At the same time, all a man's 
possessions are the result of his own labour, and 
confined almost exclusively to food and clothing, or the 
instruments by which these are acquired; whilst the 
rude climate and the nature of the articles will not per- 
mit any one to hoard up stores which may tempt his 
neighbour to crime or servility. Their virtues, rather 
the negation of vice than any positive good quality, are 
thus produced by their ignorance and the absence of 
temptation ; whilst government does not exist, because 
there are none of those objects for which it is required, 
and none of the means by which it is established and 
maintained. Both peculituities have their origin aUke in 
the universal ignorance and poverty of the people.* 

A similar obscurity and rudeness prevail in their 
opinions on other subjects. Their laiaguage, though 
marking by appropriate terms the slightest shades of 
difference in external objects, has yet few adjectives, 
and no words for abstract ideas in religion, morality, 
art, or science. Like all the other American tongues^ 
it is remarkable for numerous afiixes and suffixes^ 
which enable them to express much in a short space, 
but render the words cumbersome, and occasion great 
difficulty to those who endeavour to learn it.+ Their 
manner of speaking is free and simple, totally devoid 

• Anderson's Nachrichten, p. 307-309. This author is the only 
one we know who has taken particular notice of this circumstanoe, 
heing led to it by his professional studies. Many of the American 
tribes when first discovered were in nearly as imperfect a condition, 
especially those subsisting on fish. Robertson's America, Works, 
vol. iii. p- 294-296. Note, p. 543. 

i* ** Thus, from the radical verb innuvok, * he lives, is a man.' 
ifl derived innugikpdk, * he is a handsome man ;' innurdlukpi^ 
< he is a mis-shapen man ;' innukulukpdk, * he is an unfortunate 


of hyperbole, with few figurative or metaphorical ex- 
pressions ; and their poetry, without rhyme or measure, 
is merely short periods sung in a certain cadence, with 
a brief chorus intervening.* Science cannot be said 
to exist among them : twenty winters are the limit of 
their numeration, all above that amount being styled 
innumerable ; and no one can tell his age, though they 
trace their pedigree up to the tenth generation through 
all its branches. Until they were instructed by the mis- 
sionaries, they had no idea of writing, and were at first 
a£taid to touch a book, though now many of them have 
learned to write, and others correspond with the factories 
in rude hieroglyphics, drawing the article required with 
charcoal on a piece of skin, and marking the days to 
the time of payment with strokes. Their history is 
buried in impenetrable darkness, their only traditions 
being some incongruous accounts of the battles of their 
ancestors with the old Norwegians. Time is denoted by 
the changes of the seasons, the migrations of birds, or 
by the growth of plants and animals ; whilst they divide 
the day by the ebbing of the tide, and the night by 
the rising of the stars. Of the heavenly bodies they en- 
tertain the rudest ideas : the stars are the souls of their 
ancestors ; the shooting ones are spirits going on a visit 
&om heaven to hell ; whilst the sun and moon are two 
mortals to whom they impute many absurd customs. 
Necessity has given them a knowledge of some simple 

man ;' innuksiorpbk, * he is a good man ;' innuhpilukpbk, * he is a 
iMulman;* innuksisimavbk^ *heisaman as a Greenlander, t. e., 
a modest man ;' innungorpdk, * he begins to be a Greenlander.' " 
Giesecke, Ed. Encyc. vol. x. p. 486. From this common po/y- 
synthetic form, as it has been well named, of the American lan- 
guages, in which they differ h'om all others. Professor Vater draws 
the natural conclusion, ** That these common methods of construc- 
tion have had their origin from a single point ; that there has been 
one general source from which the culture of languages in America 
baa been diffused, and which has been the common centre of its 
diversified idioms." Mithridates, theil iii. p. 328. 

* M. Kier has published a collection of Greenland poems in the 
original language, Illerkorsutit, Aarhuus, 1833. Several of them 
have also been translated by Herder in his VoUulie^er. 


methods of treating external injuries, and they eren 
operate for the cataract with wonderful success^ consi- 
dering that their only instruments are a crooked needle 
and a laige round knife. For internal diseases incan- 
tations are their sole remedy ; all besides is left to na- 
ture. The most common are ophthalmia^ consumption, 
and pleurisy, with scorvy, leprosy, and some other 
cutaneous complaints occasioned by their filthy mode 
of life.* 

In their intercourse with each other the Greenlanders 
are friendly, polite, and anxious to please or rather not 
to ofiFend. They are yery loquacious, and fond of con- 
versing in an ironical strain, satire having far more in- 
fluence on them than any kind of reasoning. In the 
frequent visits they make to each other, the guest is 
stripped of his clothes which are hung up to dry, and 
the most honourable place assigned to him. Their 
entertainments consist of three or four dishes, and it 
is considered polite in a stranger to require great press- 
ing before he partake of any thing. When we con- 
sider the fare, this seeming reluctance will not be 
wondered at, the greatest delicacy, in many cases, being 
part of a whale's tail half-putrid, or, it may be^ a seal's 
carcass in the same condition. By way of dainties, how- 
ever^ they sometimes present the flesh of bears, belugas, 
sharks, dogs, gulls, and bull-heads. When they wish to 
treat a European with extraordinary politeness, before 
oficring him a piece of meat they lick o£f the T>lood and 
filth with their tongues, and it is considered a gross insult 
to decline the gift. The seal furnishes them with almost 
their whole food, the most important additions being 
fish, sea-fowl, rein-deer, hares, and j>artridges^ though 
the three last are now scarce. Foreign provisions^ such 
as bread, pease, and stockfish, together with tobacco and 
brandy, are very acceptable. They eat no vegetables 
except a few berries preserved in blubber, the angelica, 

* Crantz, vol. i. p. 210-216. Egede, pp. 163-174, 202-206. 
Graah, p. 124. 



and some varieties of seaweed found on their shores. 
Train-oil is only used for preserving their food, and the 
bluhher is principally eaten to the dried smelt. Raw 
flesh is also consumed in small quantity during the 
chase of the rein-deer. Their cooking, performed in 
yessels of potstone over a lamp, or in a copper caul- 
dron in the open air, partakes of the dirtiness of their 
other hahitfl. The pots are never washed, being merely 
licked by the dogs ; and the meat when taken out is laid 
on the ground, or on an old skin but little cleaner. 
Their great time for feasting is when they happen to 
kill a whale, or find one dead on the shore, when every 
one runs to the prize, cutting o£f and carrying away as 
much flesh and blubber as he can obtain. 

In winter the Greenlanders inhabit houses or huts, 
and in summer tents. Two or three families, sometimes 
eight or ten, live in one of the former, which is about 
twelve feet wide, from fifty to a hundred long, and five 
or six high. The walls, composed of stones and turf, are 
lined on the inside with hides to keep out the wet. A 
broad bench of wood, covered with skins and divided ac- 
cording to the number of families, runs along one side, 
serving for a seat by day and a bed by night. At every 
partition is a fireplace or oil-lamp placed on a stool, with 
a potstone kettle suspended over it, and above this a screen 
for drying clothes. The windows are formed of the en- 
trails of seals, whales, or dolphins, neatly sewed together. 
A long, low, narrow passage, through which the heated 
air escapes, ia the only entrance ; and though there is 
no door, the house is so warm that the natives sit either 
almost or altogether naked. Their dwellings are gene- 
rally situated on a rising ground or rock near the sea, 
to permit the rain and melted snow to run off. Such, 
however, are the filth and smell, and the steam from 
the bodies of the inmates, that Europeans find it difficult 
to remain any time in them. The summer-tents have 
also stone walls, and are covered with seal or rein-deer 
skins ; but as only one feonily occupies each of these, 
and the cooking is conducted in the open air, they are 


cleaner and less offensive to a foreigner than the houses. 
Their travelling-tents are merely poles fixed in the 
ground and supplied with the usual covering. 

Both sexes dress very much alike, and in a manner 
suitahle to the climate. The outer garment is a close coat 
of seal or rein-deer skin slipped over the head and reaeh- 
ing to the knees. Attached to the back is a hood, like 
a monk's cowl, for covering the head, used only in winter 
or bad weather. Underneath they wear a shirt com- 
posed of the skins of deer or fowl, witihi the hair or feathers 
turned inwards. They have also breeches, stockings, and 
shoes, all of seal-skin ; and the women adorn their gar- 
ments with strips of red, blue, or yellow leather and 
cloth. Mothers and nurses wear a wide cloak bound 
round the body with a girdle, in which they wrap up 
the child, usually quite naked. In ancient times the 
ladies, in order to be completely handsome, were tat- 
tooed ; but this fashion is now obsolete or only retained 
by very old women.* 

The only thing in which the Greenlanders manifest 
much skill is in the structure and management of their 
boats, — ^the kayak or boat for one man, and the oomiak 
or women's boat, both formed of a light frame-work 
of wood covered with seal-skin. The latter is usually 
about twenty-four feet long, and five or six wide, though 
some are built nearly a half larger. The covering con- 
sists of sixteen or twenty seal-skins saturated with blub- 
ber and thoroughly dried. Neither nails nor spikes 
are used in their construction, the whole being fastened 
together by the sinews of the seal, and their entire 
strength consists in their elasticity. They are flat-bot- 
tomed and only fitted for a calm sea, as a stiff breeze 
or heavy swell is sure to capsize or destroy them. The 
ice is also apt to cut the skin by which they are 
covered, when the natives repair the damage by stuffing 
the hole with blubber, or draw them upon the shore 

• Crantz, vol. i. p. 127-132. Egede, pp. 113-118, 129-133. 
Saabye^s Greenland, p. 2-14. 


and sew a patch on the place, which is soon accom- 
plished, as two persons can easily carry one of them. 
They are rowed hy four or five women, and with a fiill 
cai^o on board can sail thirty miles or more in a day, 
though, on long voyages, one cannot count on more than 
twenty or twenty-four on an average, as every fifth day 
the boat must be taken out of the sea to allow the skin 
now saturated with water to dry. The former, the kayak 
or man's boat, is from twelve to fourteen feet long, about 
eighteen inches wide, and a foot deep, formed of wood and 
whalebone, covered aboye and below with skin, and sel- 
dom weighs more than twenty or thirty pounds. In the 
middle is an opening, surrounded by a hoop, into which 
the Esquimaux slips, and drawing his seed-skin cloak 
tight round it, renders the whole completely impervious 
to water. There is only one oar, six feet long, with a thin 
blade at each end fenced with bone. In this frail bark 
he fears no storm, floating like a sea-bird on the top of the 
billows, or emerging from beneath the white waves 
that dash over his head. Even when upset he rights 
himself by a stroke of his oar under the water ; but 
if this is lost or broken he is certain to perish. Few 
Europeans ever learn to row the kayak, and many even 
of the natives can never attain sufficient skill to regain 
their equilibrium when overturned.* 

Most of their domestic concerns are committed to the 
charge of the females, the men seldom either directing 
or assisting. It is the women who must make clothes, 
boots, canoes, and tents, dress leather, clean and dry the 
garments, gut and dismember the game, cook the meat, 
cut the potstone lamps, prepare oil and wicks, and build 
houses and tents. The business of the other sex is almost 
exclusively confined to catching seals and other game, 
and many of them consider it a degradation even to 
convey what they have taken from the boats to their 
houses or tents. In their marriages it is therefore to 
the former qualifications of good housewifery that the 

* Oraah, pp. 29, 80. 


Greenlander has regard in choosmg his flpousey whilst 
the ladies, on the other hand, look out for a good hunter, 
who is sldlled in catching sesds. The bride has seldom 
any dowry, her whole portion being in general the 
clothes upon her back, to which is sometimes added a 
lamp, a kettle, a few needles, and a round knife. The 
parents never interfere in marriages, and decorum re. 
quires that a girl should not choose to enter into wed- 
lock ; and she, according to rule, makes great difficulties^ 
runs to the mountains, and has usually to be dragged by 
force from her home. The bridegroom puts her into 
his oomiak, supported by some old women, carries her 
to his house, and they are then considered as united* 
Sometimes she runs away, and has to be brought back ; 
and if her aversion is real, she continues this practice 
till her lover tires of the pursuit, though formerly they 
prevented such escapes by cutting slits in the soles of 
the bride's feet. At the missions marriages are con- 
tracted through the intervention of the clergyman, who 
Is applied to for this purpose by the man. Among the 
heathen polygamy is allowed, though seldom practised, 
unless when the first wife has no children, and in this 
case she often requests her husband to take another. 
Divorces sometimes occur ; and all that is necessaiy to 
accomplish this object is for the husband to assume a 
surly face, leave the house a few days without saying 
where he is going, upon which the wife takes the hin^ 
packs up her effects, and repairs with her children to her 
relations. Their marriages are not very prolific, the 
number of children rarely exceeding five or six ; and 
they are allowed to grow up almost as nature dictates, 
the parents never chastising or even reproving them. 
Till their sixth or seventh year they are therefore very 
untractable, but after that time they follow their parents 
willingly, and with increasing age behave still more re- 
spectfully towards them. The boys from their earliest 
years are regarded as the future masters of the house, 
and are employed by the father so as to be afterwards 
qualified to perform the business of men. The first 


sea-fowl canght by them gives occasion to a great festival 
in the family. The affection of the parents for their 
children is excessive, and no method of conciliating the 
former is more e£fectual than fondling the latter ; whilst 
he who ventures to strike, or even reproach them, incurs 
their certain displeasure. 

Though extremely sociable, the Greenlanders have 
few amusements, and these mostly of a very rude de- 
scription. Their only musical instrument is a kind of 
drum or tambourine, formed of a hoop of wood covered 
with a fine skin, on which they beat with a small stick. 
The performer, at the same time, leaps and contorts his 
whole body, writhing and twisting his head and eyes in 
the most laughable manner. He also frequently ex- 
temporizes a ballad, the subject of which is the chase of 
the seal, or some other incident equally important to the 
assembly, who, at the end of every verse, join in the 
chorus of '* £ia-eia-a!" In these songs they decide 
many of their quarrels, or, when injured, take vengeance 
on their adversaries. They compose a satirical poem, 
which is learned by their friends, and meeting on an ap- 
pointed day with their opponent and his partisans, each, 
singing and dancing as above, states his case, accompa- 
nied with as much ridicule and sarcasm as he can devise ; 
after which the spectators pronounce sentence, from 
which there is no appeal. This manner of arbitration 
has great influence in preventing and punishing offences, 
as the natives are much afraid of being laughed at by 
their neighbours. It has, however, been discouraged 
by the missionaries, and is now altogether abolished 
on the western coast. 

The dead are buried in a sitting posture, and dressed 
in their best clothes. As the earth is very shallow or 
hard frozen, they build tombs of stone, and cover the 
body with plates of mica slate or clay slate, to preserve 
it from carnivorous animals. The kayak and hunting 
instruments of the deceased are placed at the side of the 
grave, and they put a dog's head into that of a child, in 
order that its spirit may guide the helpless infant to 


the land of souls. On their return to the house, they 
continue their lamentation in a sort of monotonous 
howl, at the conclusion of which some refreshment is 
taken, and each departs to his own dwelling. 

Desire of food, as already remarked, is the great mo« 
tive to employment among savages, and to this end all the 
exertions of the Greenlanders are immediately directed. 
The chase of the rein-deer used formerly to occupy much 
of their time, and though, from the increased &cilities of 
destroying them since the introduction of firearms, less 
lucrative than formerly, it is still the favourite pursuit. 
The white hare is also hunted for its flesh, and the foxes 
for their skins ; hut the profit of all these is so incon- 
siderahle, that the missionaries think it would he of ad- 
vantage to the nation if they could he persuaded to relin- 
quish them altogether, and confine themselves to the fish- 
eries and the catching of seals. The latter is to the natives 
of Greenland what the rein-deer ia to the Laplander, 
the principal source of wealth, without which their 
country would be uninhabitable. It provides them with 
all the necessaries of life : they eat its flesh, cover them- 
selves, their boats, and houses with its skin, and find 
light and warmth in its blubber. In hunting it they use 
a harpoon, to which a bladder is fixed by a thong eight or 
nine fathoms long. The seal, when struck, often pulls 
the bladder under water, but being soon exhaust^ is 
compelled to rise to take breath ; upon which the fisher 
repeats his blows with the spear or lance till it is killed. 
Should the line, however, become entangled, the kayak 
is drawn down, and its owner drowned. They also 
entrap many in the narrow fiords by cutting o£f their 
retreat to the sea, and in the winter watch for them at 
holes cut in the ice, and despatch them with their har- 
poons. They also surprise tiiem when sleeping on the 
ice, though from the extreme wariness of the animal 
this method is not very successful. Near Disco Island 
they use a white screen attached to a pole, which they 
pu^ before them on the snow till they get within sho^ 
and in this manner they often deceive their prey. 


They sometimes fish for the whale, though now only 
in conjunction with the Danes, their own implements 
being so imperfect that it generally escaped them. They 
made use of nearly the same apparatus as in catching 
seals, and were careful to put on their best clothes, as 
they thought the monarch of the floods had a parti- 
cular antipathy to them when dirty, and that even when 
dead, he sunk to escape the contamination. Besides the 
true whale they also caught several other of the ceta- 
ceous tribes, as the narwal, pot-fish, and white fish. 
They also spear the salmon and salmon-trout, or build 
weirs of loose stones at the mouths of rivers, over which 
the fish pass at high water, and are secured when left 
behind at the ebb. 

Among a people whose wants are so few, and whose 
country produces so little that is an object of desire in 
other lands, trade cannot be very extensive. Most of 
the articles are those which are necessary for their 
own wants, and it is only since a taste for European 
commodities has been difiiised among them that com- 
merce has begun to increase. The principal exports are 
feathers and eider down, horns of the sea-unicorn, skins 
of seals, blue and white foxes, white bears, hares, and 
rein-deer, whalebone, and blubber, or oil of every kind. 
In return for these they obtain guns, powder, and shot ; 
ironmongery, as knives, files, axes, needles, naUs, arrow- 
heads ; linen and hosiery, cottons, ribbons, gloves, look- 
ing-glasses, snufi^-boxes and tobacco, which last is in great 
request. They are also very anxious to procure rye- 
bread, barley, tea, cofiee, beer, and brandy ; but this last 
has been prohibited, and no one is allowed to sell or 
even give it to the natives. This trade is a government 
monopoly, and five or six vessels are sent out every 
May, the cargoes of which are worth 65,000 rixdollars, 
or £18,000 sterling ; whilst the goods exported are 
valued at 85,000 rixdollars, or £17,000. 

This account of the manners and habits of the Esqui- 
maux applies only to those still in their wild or un- 
converted condition ; for on the western coast, where the 


missions have been longest established, their influence 
is very perceptible. It has indeed been objected that 
the Christians are still as superstitious as the heathen, 
and by no means less immond in their lives. The first 
of these accusations is in some degree true, superstition 
prevailing there as in all other half-<;ivilized and imper- 
fectly educated communities, but by no means to such 
an extent as formerly. The angekkoks have all dis- 
appeared from the vicinity of the colonies ; and those 
cruel murders of persons accused of sorcery or witch- 
craft are now scarcely known. The same reasons ac- 
count for the progress of morality being less than might 
be wished, though many indecent practices, once com- 
mon among the heathen, have now vanieihed. In a 
country where there are neither laws nor magistrates, 
and where the most atrocious crimes would remain un- 
punished, we can ascribe the decrease of vice to nothing 
except the moral improvement of the people. Even 
the most imperfect form of Christianity is preferable to 
the mingled atheism and superstition that once pre- 
vailed ; and though all the good efiects of conversion 
may not yet every where meet the eye, we may be 
assured that they are very considerable. Even viewed 
in the lowest l^ht as an instrument of civilisation, 
elevating the natives above their original degraded state, 
the gospel has not proved wholly fruitless, though its 
full influence will only be manifested after several 
generations. The people, who formerly regarded letters 
as magic, and a book as a work of die evil one, can 
now very generally read and write, and being anxious 
for information, are fond of perusing the volumes, chiefly 
religious, which have been published in their language. 
A more unpropitious field for missionary labour could 
scarcely have been chosen, or one less likely to tempt 
any person to undertake its duties; and the success, 
though small, is unquestionably sufficient to encourage 
still farther exertions. 

>i\. FAROE. 


DeKription and History qf Faroe. 

Situation and Extent — Appearance — Precipices-rHilli— Bivers-^ 
Springs — Sea — Whirlpools — Climate — Limit of Agriculture^ 
Temperature ofAir and Springs— Winds. Tofoorapht — Fugloe 
— Bordoe — Oesteroe—Curious Rocks — Stromoe— Tborshavn — 
Kirkeboe — Bird Mountain— Vaagoe—Myggenies—Skuoe — Store 
Dimon — Dangerous Roads — Suderoe. History — Discovery-— 
Sigmund Bresteson — Conyersion of the Natives — Subjugation 
by Norway — Pirates — Reformation — ^Plund^ed by Privateers. 
Inhabitants — Appearance — Character — Morality — Hospitality 
—Food — ^Dress — Employments — Fishing — Catching Whales- 
Seals — Bird-catching — Agriculture — Gardening — Cattle — Po- 
pulation — Diseases — ^Commerce— Ecclesiastical Condition — Civil 

Though less extensive in size and population than the 
two former countries, the Faroe Islands are almost 
equally interesting, both in their physical and social re- 
lations. Although allied to these in ancient and modem 
times, and peopled by a branch of the same Scandina- 
yian stock, their remote and isolated situation in the 
wide expanse of the stormy ocean has impressed on their 
inhabiteuits a strange and peculiar character. Unknown 
to the ancient Greeks and Romans, their first discoverers 
were those daring Northmen, who in their frail barks 
ransacked every sea for new shores to plunder, and for 
new lands where they might inscribe their names in blood 
and ashes. It is in their history that these islands fiiBt 
appear, and by them their present appellation seems to 
biave been imposed. It is derived from the did word 


faar or foer^ a sheep ; this animal having probably been 
introduced by the sea-rovers who frequented them long 
before the severity of Harald compelled his subjects to 
take permanent refuge in those distant lands.* 

This group of islands is situated in the northern sea, 
between latitude %V 26' and 62° 26' N., and long. 6° 41/ 
and T 40' W. The Shetlands are 185 miles to the 
south-east, whilst Iceland is 320 north-west, and Norway 
about 400 east. The islands, particularly the northern 
portion, lie closely together, extending about sixty-seven 
miles from north to south, and forty-five from east to 
west. The whole cluster consists of twenty-five, of which 
seventeen are inhabited, the others being only barren 
rocks, or grassy holms on which sheep are fed during 
the summer months. The extent of the whole has been 
estimated at 850 square miles, and that of the inhabited 
portion at from 600 to 660.+ 

When seen from the sea, these islands have all the 
same general appearance, resembling some parts of Ice- 
land, though on a smaller scale. The whole group rises 
from the ocean, high and precipitous, surrounded by walls 
of lofty rocks, imposing on account of their wild aspect 
and the deep bays and gulfs which separate them from 
each other. The clifife, in many cases, are so perpendi- 
cular, that the boats are let down by ropes, whilst the 
sailors clamber up the sides by holes cut in the rocks. 
From the top of these walls, which are as smooth as if 
artificially built, a stone may be dropped into the sea 
800 or 1000 feet below. One of the most remarkable of 
these points is the promontory of Myling, at the northern 
end of Stromoe, 2500 feet high, and completely perpen- 
dicular. In other places the waves have cut the clifis 
into the most &ntastic forms, sometimes resembling old 
Gothic houses, at others, needle-shaped fragments, the 
"Witches' Fingers (Trollkonefinger) of the natives, shoot 
up into the air, or the softer strata are worn into large 
vaults and long winding caverns, inhabited by seals 

• Torf. Hist. Faereyensis (Havnis, 1695), p. 2-4, et praef. 
Landt, Description of Feroe (Lond. 1810.), p. 2. 
•f Hassers Erdbeschreibung, vol. x. p. 209. 


and waterfowL One of these pierces tlie island of Nalsoe 
from side to side, and may be passed through in a boat 
in calm weather. A still more curious appearance is 
seen where these caves end in rents or holes extending to 
the surface, as near Westmannshavn in Stromoe. In 
stormy weather, the waves dashing on the eoast force 
the compressed water within to rise through them in 
jets of foam, with a noise like thunder. In other places, 
where soft and hard strata alternate, the difis are sepa- 
lated into numerous terraces, scarcely a foot broad, on 
which the sea-fowl build their nests.* 

In the interior these islands are full of mountains and 
clifik, intersected by narrow valleys. Some of them may 
be regarded almost as one eminence rising from the sea, 
and forming merely a group or chain of hills. In none of 
the larger inhabited ones is the highest point less than 
1000 ieei above the level of the water ; in the northern, 
the central ridge is 1200 ; and in Kunoe it is 2000 feet 
high, with a basis of more than two miles broad. The 
highest hill in Faroe is the Slattaretind, near Eide, in Oes- 
teioe, which, according to Forchhammar's measurement, 
iM 2816 feet Rhenish, or 2900 English. The Myling, 
already mentioned, and the Skiellingsfeld, according to 
Watgas, above 2400 feet high, rank next in order. These 
hills in general form a succession of grassy declivities, 
alternating with naked walls of dark rock. On the top 
they are mostly flat, with numerous marshy hollows 
filled with moss. The soil, though thin, is fertile, espe- 
cially near the coast, where the houses are built, but as 
we ascend, its thickness diminishes, and the tops of the 
mountains are in general nothing but bare stone. 

The moisture from the surrounding ocean forms nu- 
merous streams and rivulets, though none of any con- 
siderable size. These pour with great impetuosity down 
the steep sides of the mountains, in picturesque falls 
and cataracts, which are often dispersed by the wind be- 
fore they reach the bottom. Each brook traverses, from 

* Graba Tagebuch, pp. 93, 97, 119, 209. Forchhammar, Kar- 
sten's Archiv. vol. ii. p. 198. Scoresby's Greenland, p. 368. 
Allan, £d. Phil. Trans. yoL vii. p. 245# 


its origin to the sea, a large amphitheatre-like yalley, in 
which flat semicircular plains are diyided by steep walls. 
There are also abundance of springs, supplying the inha- 
bitants with water, some of which have a temperature 
above the mean heat of the place. There are but few 
lakes, the largest of which, in Vaagoe, is only two miles 
in circumference ; Leinumvatn, in Stromoe, lies in a 
mournful-looking basin, surrounded by black naked 
rocks, whilst a few sea-fowl alone enliven the scene. 
Toftevatn, another of the larger lakes, is said to resemble 
Loch Groil in Scotland, but has an equally melancholy 
and desolate aspect as the other. 

The extent of open sea on every side exposes Faroe 
to the full fury of the billows, which are broken by no 
sloping beach or shallows, the depth of water close to 
the shore being often so great that a ship may without 
difficulty touch the clifis. The waves, even when ex- 
cited by only a moderate breeze of wind, rise extremely 
high, dashing over the rocky promontories some hun- 
dred feet above the surfiace. The currents are also very 
remarkable, running with great regularity rather more 
than six hours to the east, and then during the same time 
to the west. A knowledge of this is of great importance 
to the natives, who, in sailing from one island to an- 
other, must calculate the time of change, as they find it 
impossible to contend against the stream. When a storm 
comes on whilst the boats are out fishing, the same 
cause frequently occasions their destruction, as it is not 
in the seamen's power to reach home before tiie turn of 
the tide. These currents axe strongest at the change of 
the moon, and during stormy weather, when there are 
often weeks and months during which it is impossible to 
pass from one island to another. The natives tell of a 
clergyman who was detained eighteen weeks on Fugloe, 
and of another who, having gone in good weather to visit 
a sick person in Myggenses, could not return home before 
the end of fourteen weeks. During the three months 
and a half that Graba was in Faroe, there was not a day 
when the state of the winds and ocean would permit him 
to reach Myggenssholm, which he was anxious to see. 


The tides and currents, meeting and forcing their 
way through the narrow channels amongst these islands, 
form several whirlpools, of which three are dangerous 
in high winds. The most remarkable of them is that 
at the Monk, a rock rising from the sea at some 
distance south of Suderoe, round which, according to 
Debes, the water turned in a threefold gyration. His 
account, formed from the report of credulous mariners, 
was highly exaggerated ; as it may be safely approached 
in boats, and is only dangerous to ships from the shoals 
which surround it, over which the waves break with 
great violence.* 

The climate of Faroe, though harsh, is by no means 
80 much so as its latitude would lead one to suppose, 
the wide ocean around mitigating both the cold and 
heat. The latter is of very short duration, for even in 
July and August the warmth is never great, and the 
weather very imsettled. The frost seldom continues a 
month ;+ the bays are never covered with ice, except in 
the coldest years, and the winter is milder than in 
Denmark, the thermometer rarely falling below 14° of 
Fahrenheit. The snow is never deep, and seldom 
covers the ground above a week at a time. We need 
not therefore be surprised to find some birds wintering 
there, such as the curlew and the common stare, which 
finding Holstein too cold, seek a warmer climate. The 
want of wood on these islands is therefore to be attribut- 
ed to the high winds and salt fogs from the sea, rather 
than to deficiency of heat ; whilst the birch trees found 
in the mosses prove that they formerly grew there, and 
were probably cut down for fuel. The grass fields at- 
tain an elevation of 2000 feet on the plains and gentle 
declivities, but the mountain tops are a perfect desert, 
where the violent winds suffer no vegetation to exist. 

* Graba, pp. 33, 42, 48, 69. Debes, p. 45. Landt, pp. 20- 
25, 109-113. Forchhammar, p. 197-199. 

•f* That which continued from December 1815 to April I8I6, 

haTing commenced when the ground was covered with half-melted 

^anow, occasioned the loss of 30,000 sheep. In Stromoe, out of 

16,51 7, there perished 7870, or nearly one-naif. Trevelyan, Edin. 

FhiL Jour. toL xviii. p. 166. 


The deterioration of the climate as we ascend, and at the 
same time the effect of exposnrCy are well shown by the 
cultivation of barley, the only cereal plant grown in 
Faroe. According to a mean of several observations^ in 
the southern islands this grain reaches an elevation 
293 feet on the southern exposure, and only 214 on 
the opposite side of the hills. In the northern islands, 
again, with the former exposure, it attains to 266 feet, 
and to 147 with the latter. But in Suderoe, where the 
crops may be reaped even in less favourable years, regu* 
lar cultivation does not exceed 138 feet on the southern 
declivities, and 80 on the northern ; whilst the greatest 
height is 418 feet on Myggenss. Potatoes, however, 
grow at a point considerably higher. 

The mean temperature of the year at Thorshavn is 
45.4^, that of mild years being 49.2% and of oool ones 
42.8^ The mean of the three wannest months varies 
from 56.9° to 51.7^ ; and of the three coldest from 
41.6° to 33° ; whilst the greatest height of the thermo- 
meter was 72.5°, and the lowest 18.6°. The tempen- 
ture of the springs on the seashore seems to be about 
45°, decreasing regularly as we ascend, some hot ones 
excepted. Those issuing from one stratum have con- 
stantly a degree of heat corresponding to their elevation ; 
the fountains proceeding from the compact rock being 
warmer than those from the loose debris. The temper- 
ature from the shore to the height of 1500 feet seems 
to vary about one degree in 276 feet, though a spring 
observed on Konugefield on Kimoe, with a temperature 
of 36° at an elevation of 2460 feet, gives one degree to 286 
feet. The coldest spring observed is one on Debelslock 
on Bordoe, at 34.5°, whilst the warmest is the Warms- 
kelde on Stromoe, near the level of the sea, equal to 
65.3° Fahrenheit.* 

Thunder is very rare in Faroe, though more frequent 
in winter than in summer; and lightning is never 
known to do any injury. High vdnds, on the other 

* Forchhamxnar, p. 197-200. Trevelyan, Ed. Phil. Jour. voL 
zviii. pp. 156, 163« Hassel, vol. z. p. 210. Graba, pp. 36, 49. 


hand, are extremely commoiiy whirlwinds and hurricanes 
both in sommer and winter being ahnost daily visitants. 
Unlike the whispering gales and cooling zephyrs of the 
poets, they inspire strangers with the utmost terror, 
announcing their approach by a bellowing noise, and 
clouds of dust, sand, or stones torn from the mountains. 
They strip the tops of these of all soil and vegetation, 
rolling up the turf like a sheet of lead, and preci- 
pitating it into the valleys. Often when there is 
a strong gale on the shore, the exposed sides of the 
hills enjoy a perfect calm, which has been accounted for 
by supposing the wind reflected from the perpendicular 
clifis to rise in a vertical current, carrying along with it 
the horizontal strata. The most violent winds are those 
sudden gusts which, descending from the mountains^ 
occasion the greatest devastation, especially among the 
boats and shipping in the narrow channels. It is a re- 
markable circumstance, that before and after these vio- 
lent blasts the atmosphere is so completely lulled, that 
a lighted candle may be carried from house to house in 
the open air.* 

As already mentioned, the inhabited islands are seven- 
teen in number, some of the peculiarities of which we 
shall now shortly notice. The most distant to the north- 
east is Fugloe, the bird-island, flat on the top, and sur- 
rounded with lofty clifis, up which the natives drag their 
boats with extreme difficulty. South of it is Svinoe, 
formed oitwo lofty hills, almost separated by deep bays. 
Videroe, to the north, is of more importance, being seven 
miles long by five broad, with six hundred inhabitants. 
Bordoe, which follows to the westward, is nine mUes long, 
and from five to seven broad. It has been compared in 
shape to a crab, being indented by deep inlets, on which 
the shore is low and sandy, but in all other places sur- 
rounded with precipitous rocks. The tops of the hills 
are sharp and bare, and a house which stood amongst 
them was removed on account of the avalanches of snow, 
which several times destroyed the buildings and killed 

* Landt, p. 126.129. Graba, p. 127. 


all the inhabitants. Knnoe, to the north-west, is five 
miles long by two broad, and forms one continuous 
mountain, rising from the sea to the height of 2000 feet. 
The landing-places both on this and the last are extremely 
dangerous, and the boats are pulled up or let down by 
ropes. Kalsoe, which succeeds, is long and narrow, 
steep towards the west, but sloping gradually down to 
the east. Oesteroe the second largest in the group, 
contains eighty-eight square miles, seyen churches^ and 
about 1200 inhabitants. It is intersected on the eastern 
side by five inlets or arms of the sea, an^ on the west 
by Skaall Fiord. The hills here are the highest in 
Faroe, and exhibit some beautiful ranges of basaltic 
rocks, extending above a mile in length, with a height 
of 420 feet, and entirely composed of pentagonal or octa- 
gonal columns, about six feet in diameter. One of these 
gigantic pillars, sixty feet long, has fallen down from 
the hill so as to form a bridge over a deep gully. 
Another remarkable rock is the Rinkesteen, near And 
Fiord, on the eastern side of the island, twenty-four feet 
long, eighteen broad, and from six to twelve above the 
water. This stone is so exactly poised, that it vibrates 
backward and forward with the slightest touch, yet 
though constantly rocking amidst the breakers, has never 
been moved from its place. 

Next to this is Stromoe, the largest of all the islands, 
being twenty-seven miles long by seven broad, and con- 
taining 143 square miles, divided into two parishes. It is 
separated from the last mentioned by a narrow sound, 
a mile and a quarter wide, but contracting near Stromnes 
to about half a cable length, where the current is so 
strong that even ten men cannot row a boat against it. 
In this is placed Thorshavn, the capital of Faroe, and 
the principal trading station. It is built on the south- 
eastern side of the island, on a peninsula which divides 
the harbour into two, and contains about 100 houses, 
most of them mere huts, stuck in amongst the rocks 
without any regularity, whilst the streets are so narrow 
that scarcely more than one person can ascend them at 
a time. The entrance to the harbour is protected by a 


fort, on which, however, there are no cannon, and the 
road to it forms the only tolerable walk about the place. 
The houses are covered with turf, and so closely resemble 
the surrounding soil that a stranger can hardly believe 
that he is in the neighbourhood of a town. This place 
is the residence of the principal official persons on the 
islands, and has a population of about eight hundred. 

Westmannshavn, on the western side of this island, is a 
good harbour, but more remarkable for the flocks of sea- 
fowl that frequent the surrounding rocks. The Vogel- 
berg, as it is called, lies in a £right^l chasm, encompass- 
ed by inaccessible rocks said to be a thousand feet high. 
The entrance is by a narrow passage ; on leaving which, 
one finds himself between the precipitous shores of the 
isknd on the one hand, and an equally lofty rock on the 
other, which shelter the enclosed space from every wind. 
Herd nothing is seen but multitudes of birds. Thousands 
of guillemots and auks swim in groups around the boat,, 
look curiously at the traveller, and vanish beneath the 
water to rise in his immediate neighbourhood. The black 
guillemot comes close to the very oars, the seal stretches 
his head above the waves, not comprehending what has 
disturbed the repose of his asylum, while the rapacious 
skua pursues the puffin and gull. High in the air the 
birds seem like bees clustering about the rocks, whilst 
lower they fly past so close that they might be knocked 
down with a stick. But not less strange is the domicile of 
this colony. On some low rocks scarcely projecting above 
the water, sit the glossy cormorants, turning their long 
necks on every side. Next are the skua gulls, regarded 
with an anxious eye by the line of kittiwakes above. Nest 
follows nest in crowded rows along the whole breadth of 
the rock, and nothing is visible but the heads of the 
mothers and the white rocks between. A little higher 
on the narrow shelves sit the auks and guillemots, arrang- 
ed as on parade, with their white breasts to the sea, and 
80 close that a hailstone could not pass between them. 
The puffins take the highest station, and though scarcely 
visible, betray themselves by their flying backwards 
and forwards. The noise of such a multitude of birds 


18 confounding, fmd one cannot hear eren his next neigh- 
boor speak. The harsh tones of the kittiwake are heard 
aboTC the whole, the intervals being filled bythe monotfm- 
ons note of the ank and the softer voice of the guillemot. 
When here, Graba was tempted by the sight of a crested 
cormorant to fire a gun. What became of it, says he, I 
knew not. The air was darkened by the birds roused 
from their repose. Thousands hastened out of the chasm 
with a frightful noise, and spread themselves in troq)8 
over the ocean. The puffins came wondering from their 
holes, and regarded the universal confrision with comic 
gestures ; the kittiwakes remained composedly in thei? 
nests, whilst the cormorants tumbled headlong into tbe 
sea. But the confusion was soon over, and all returned :o 
their former places and employments.* 

Vaagoe, which is a large mountainous island, contams 
the most extensive sheet of fresh water in Faroe, the Sor- 
vaagsvatn, and some curious basaltic rocks near the 
northern extremity, forming vaults and arches beneath 
which a boat can sail. One of the most singular iis the 
Trollkonefinger, sometimes appearing like a huge finger 
pointing upwards, at others like a square tower sur- 
mounted by a spire, with a door and windows. Still 
farther west is Myggenses, separated from the former 
by the most dangerous fiord in the islands. It is sur- 
rounded by precipitous cUfis from 1200 to 1400 feet 
in height, and is only visited by the clergjrman twice in 
the year. Near it is the small islet or rock named 
Myggenaesholm, the only place in Faroe where the 
solan goose builds its nest. 

South-west from Stromoe are the two small islands of 
Kolter and Hestoe, and on the opposite side that of 
Nalsoe or the Needle Island, thus named frt>m the 
curious cave which penetrates it from side to side. To 
the south lie Sandoe and Skuoe, on the latter of which 
is seen the grave of Sigmund Bresteson, the hero of 
the Faroe Isles. The Greater or Store Dimon, is the 
most inaccessible of this remote group. The shore 

• Graba, pp. 94-97, 100. 110. Landt, pp. 47, 48, 


is eveiy where so steep that no hoat can he kept there, 
and ihe inhabitants liye entirely secluded, <yoly receiv- 
ing an annnal risit from the clergyman, who is pnlled 
up by ropes^ When Graba visited this island the sailors 
first pn^ed one of their number up the rocks with 
their long sticks as in bird-catching, who then drew up 
the others. In this way they mounted from cliff to cliff 
to a height of 250 feet, the process having been repeated 
several times. On his return he chose a Sorter but 
scarcely less dangerous road, which descends a narrow 
path cut in the rocks, and then turning to the left, 
proceeds along the front of a precipice where holes 
are cut every three feet, in which one can fix the points 
of his fingers and toes. This continues forty feet, when 
another road leads to the beach. How steep the rock is 
may be understood from the fact that a basket with eggs 
of ihe wild birds, which he had collected on the island, 
was let down into the boat by a rope ; yet along this 
firightful path did a drunken native pass with a sack of 
barley on his back. This island is ^e greatest breed- 
ing-place for sea-fowl in Faroe, and, though scarcely a 
mile long by half a mile broad, more than 5000 puffins 
are caught in it every year. The inhabitants neverthe- 
less complain of their decrease, as only thirty or forty 
years ago the number amount^ to upwards of 20,000. 
lille Dimon, to the south of this, is a small island of 
a conical form, only inhabited by numerous wild sheep, 
whose flesh is dark and tastes like venison. 

Suderoe, the most southern .of the whole, contains 
about forty-four square miles, and is very irregularly 
shaped, being intersected by several fiords. This island 
differs in many respects from the more northern, though 
the distance between them is only a few miles. The 
mountains assume a different form and contain peculiar 
Tocks ; the bays pierce more deeply into the land ; birds, 
such as the field-lark, the swallow, the land-rail, sel- 
dom or never seen in the northern islands, go thither 
every year. The cultivation of the land is better, and 
the crops almost suffice for its inhabitants^ who, it is re- 
marked, differ in dress and language from the others, 


are more active, industrious, and consequently in better 
circumstances. It also contains thick beds of coal and 
some very curious basaltic pillars. In one place the 
whole ground seems as if paved with the projecting 
columns, over which the shore is reached with some 
difficulty, and there they are seen arranged in the most 
singular colonnades or twUitedinto the form of an inverted 
S. Qualboe in this island is the finest village in Faroe, 
standing at the extremity of a bay, on whose shores 
smiling valleys, adorned by picturesque waterfalls, alter- 
nate with lofty mountains whose sides are scarred by 
the rock-slips, which are very common here, and are 
affirmed to happen most frequently between one and 
two o'clock in the morning ; a phenomenon more dif- 
ficult to account for from the equality in temperature 
and moisture of the day and night.* ' 

The natives of these islands, though of the same origin 
with the Icelanders, and resembling them in many of 
their customs, were never like them given to literature. 
Their history is thus entirely dependent on foreign 
sources, and wants the unity and completeness of that 
of the more northern country. Even the time when 
the islands were discovered and the names of their first 
occupants are uncertain. The reason of this seems to 
have been, that, though known for a considerable period 
to the Norwegian pirates, and probably often visited by 
them during the summer months, they had then no fixed 
inhabitants. These strangers came, resided on them as 
long as it pleased their fancy, and then again resigned 
them to the fowls of heaven and their native loneliness. 
If we may trust the ancient chronicles, it was whilst en- 
gaged in a voyage thither that Naddod first discovered Ice- 
land; an event placed in the year 861, before which 
they seem to have been well known. It was, however, 
only after Harald, in the battle of Hafurs Fiord, had de- 
stroyed the power of the petty Norwegian kings, that 

* Landt, p. 33-67. Debes, p. 3-17. Hassel, vol. x. p. 215-218. 
Graba, Tagebach, pp. 23, 26, 59, 171, 200, 202, 205, 207, &e. 


they appear to have been chosen for a fixed habitation. 
l%e first settler of any note was Grimr Kamban, whose 
arrival there is placed in the year 868 ; but of this pa- 
triarch no record has been preserved, and it is uncertain 
whether it was he to whom his descendants, according to 
the Landnamabok, paid divine honours after his death. 
If, in the absence of more authentic documents, we may 
judge from the similarity of names, most of the colo- 
nists seem to have come from the Loffoden Islands. 
They themselves are proud of tracing their descent from 
a Scottish king, who, however, was only a Northman 
pirate, Thorstein the Bed, who is understood to have had 
some possessions in the Orkney Islands. 

Floki, the third discoverer of Iceland, also visited 
Faroe, and is said to have left one of his daughters there 
married to a chieftain, from whom some of the most 
powerful families in the country were descended. After 
this time nothing remarkable occurs in their history 
for about a hundred years, the division of the islands, 
each governed by its own chief and partitioned among 
his followers, preventing any quarrels. In 966, how- 
ever, two brothers, Breste and Breinar, who lived on Store 
Dimon, were attacked by some other chieftauis with 
whom they had a feud, and after bravely defending them- 
selves for a long time against superior numbers, were 
defeated and slain. Each left a son, whom some of their 
opponents wished to kill in order to secure themselves 
from their future vengeance, but one more tender-hearted 
than the rest interposed, and it was thought enough to 
send them to Norway. Thrand, a relation of their own, 
who had been the instigator of the murder, and by it 
became the most influential man in the islands, wished 
to sell them to a Norwegian merchant, who refused to 
make the purchase. He however took them home with 
him, kept them for the winter, and, on departing for a 
long voyage to the east, gave them some money and left 
them to provide for themselves. After many adventures 
fitter for a romance than for history, one of them, Sig- 
mund Bresteson, foimd his way to the court of Hakon, 
where he greatly distinguished himself; and soon after, 


visiting his native place, he slew the muTderers of his 
fjEither, only sparing him who had preserved his life, and 
at the same time punishing Thrand by a heavy fine. 

Sigmnnd after this returned to Norway, where he was 
present at the great battle with the Jomsvikingrs ; and 
being afterwards converted by Olaf Tryggvason, he was 
sent in 998 by that zealous monarch to endeavour to 
christianize his countrymen. At a general meeting of 
the natives he informed them that he had been appoint- 
ed ruler of the whole islands by King Ola^ adding the 
royal commands for the inhabitants to become believers. 
The people were willing enough to acknowledge his 
authority, but had no idea of changing their reli^on in 
this summary manner, and, headed by the wily Thrand, 
got the subject deferred to another time. The winter 
having passed over without any result, Sigmund deter- 
mined to use stronger measures, and seizing Thrand by 
surprise, gave him the choice of becoming a ChristiAn or 
of being immediately put to death. He at first chose 
the latter alternative, but the sight of the executioner 
changing his opinion, he consented to be baptized, and 
the other inhabitants soon followed his example. 

This forced conversion, as might be expected, was far 
from being sincere, and Thrand, brooding over his in- 
juries, at last resolved on vengeance. Collecting a number 
of his followers, he attacked Sigmund by surprise, and 
set his house on fire. Its master, however, escaped by 
a secret passage into one of those caves which pierce the 
islands, but the entrance being discovered, he was obliged 
to seek shelter somewhere else. He is said to have swum 
across the channel which separates Skuoe from Suderoe, 
a distance of nearly nine miles, but it seems more pro- 
bable that his residence was on Store Dimon, which is con- 
siderably nearer the latter. When he arrived there, he 
lay for some time exhausted among the seaweed, till he 
was discovered by a dependant of Thrand, who, coveting 
a large gold ring which he wore on his arm, put him 
to death, and buried him on the shore with his friend 
Thorer, who had been drowned in endeavouring to ac- 
company him. The chief, at a subsequent period, when 


it suited \m pnipofles, was the means of discovering the 
actual murderers, and of bringipg them to punishment. 

For a long time after this tiie Faroe Islands remained 
in peace, being governed by Thrand, or his son of the 
same name. They were nominally subject to Norway, 
but the tribute was very irregularly paid, and many of 
the ships sent to demand it were never heard of more, 
being either wrecked, or more probably destroyed by 
the people. This state of things continued till the reign 
of St Olai^ who, at the time when he endeavoured to sub- 
due the Icelanders, made the same attempt on Faroe. 
He succeeded better there, for having induced all the 
chiefs to visit him in Norway, except Thrand, who feign- 
ing sickness remained at home, he compelled them to 
swear allegiance and promise tribute. But this was never 
paid ; the ships which were sent for it disappeared one 
after another, till the king could get none of his subjects 
to undertake the voyage. A celebrated pirate, Karl Mere, 
offered his services, and arrived at Thorshavn in safety, 
but when he was employed in collecting the tax next 
year, he was slain in a tumult, and his companions re- 
turned without the money. Olaf wished to avenge his 
death, but was prevented by troubles at home, which 
ended in the loss of his kingdom and life. 

Faroe was now for a long period forgotten by the Nor- 
wegian monarchs, and seems neither to have paid tribute 
nor acknowledged their authority in any other way, till 
the time of Sigurd Jorsalafare. Though the different 
chieftains were often contending with each other, yet 
their feuds have neither sufficient interest nor importance 
to entitle them to a place in history. But the fierce man- 
ners of these warlike colonists soon became extinct, Chris- 
tianity took deeper root, and the inhabitants, leading quiet 
inoffensive lives, are no more heard of. In the reign of 
the king last mentioned, in the beginning of the twelfth 
century, they obtained a bishop, and the names of several 
of his successors occur in the old annals, but with no- 
thing of importance attached to them.* 

* This account of the history of Faroe is principally taken from 
Torfstts, who differi in leveral partieoJari from Debei (p. 190« 


The islands, from their remote and exposed eitnation, 
have been often invaded by pirates and plundered of the 
cattle, the natives generally contriving to save themselves 
among the high rocks. These robbers were not unfre- 
quenUy French, English, or Irish, a band of whom are 
said on one occasion to have been attacked and destroyed 
by the natives of Suderoe. In 1629, two Turkish ships 
found their way to this distant country, and cruelly abused 
the inhabitants of the last-named idand, carrying many 
of them away into captivity. To prevent these incursions 
and the exactions of the English fishers, who, on their 
way to Iceland, used to stop here and take as many of 
the natives with them as they saw fit, the King of Den- 
mark first sent a ship to cruise among the iwlg-nda^ and 
afterwards built the fort at Thorshavn. 

Christianity, though forced on the people in the 
violent manner we have mentioned, was not forsaken 
by them when they regained their freedom. They conti- 
nued Catholics tiU the Reformation was introduced into 
Denmark, when the king replacing the old priests 
with Lutheran clergymen, the whole of them were 
quietly converted to the new faith. The last popish 
bishop was Amund Olafsen, appointed in the year 1582. 
He was succeeded by Jens Biber, who having been 
several times plundered by the French pirates^ left the 
country, and became Bishop of Stavanger in Norway, 
in 1556. No successor was appointed, the churches 
being subjected to a provost or dean, who was at first 
under the bishops of Bergen, and then imder those of 

The great events of European politics but slightly in- 
fluence the condition of these remote and unimportant 
isles. During the American war their position rendered 
them a convenient depot for colonial produce, whence it 
might be smuggled into Britain, and a condderable con- 
traband trade with Scotland soon sprung up. As a con- 
sequence of the close connexion thus established, the 

232). The Saga Fareyenga was published at Copenhagen in 1833, 
with translations into the Danish. Gorman, and modern Ungoage 
of the islands ; the original being in the old Icelandic. 


Fjiglish language became familiar to the Faroese, and 
was spoken by many of them for several years after- 
wards. During the French revolutionary wars, the 
Dutch and Danish trade to the East Indies was entirely 
annihilated, and an end having thus been put to smug- 
gling, the natives were subjected to great privations. In 
1808, the British government, in order to prevent these 
islands from being converted into a retreat for privateers, 
for which they are well adapted, despatched Captain 
Baugh, in the Clio sloop of war, to destroy the fort. Ac- 
cording to the account of the Faroese, which, however, 
seems a little apocryphal, the ship appeared at first among 
the islands imder French colours, but was recognised in 
its true character by an old sailor, who gave information 
of it to the commander. This officer sent out first one 
pilot boat and then another, which were both detained ; 
upon which the English hmded, blew up the magazine 
and destroyed the cannon, without a single shot being 
fired on either side. 

The islands being thus left totally unprotected, a Grer- 
man, assuming the name of Baron Hompesch, having 
procured letters of marque, landed at Thorshavn and 
plundered the inhabitants of every thing valuable. The 
British government himianely refused to sanction these 
proceedings, and the money and goods were returned 
to the owners. On the occurrence of the disturbances 
in Iceland in 1809, our ministry, by an order in council, 
commanded the natives of that island, of Faroe, and 
Greenland, to be considered as stranger-friends, and per- 
mitted them to trade to London, Liverpool, and Leith. 
In 1811, the attention of the English cabinet was 
again called to their destitute condition, owing to all 
communication with the mother-country being entirely 
interrupted, and the Forward gun-brig was despatched 
from Leith to report on their state. The inhabitants, as 
it appeared, were suffering many privations from the 
discontinuance of the trade, in consequence of which, 
two vessels were permitted to resort thither every year, 
taking with them Danish goods, and receiving the 
produce of the islands in return. These ships were, 


however, compelled to touch at Leith for license^ 
which were lenewed every year; but the peace of 
1814 restored these colonies to the fiill posseesion of the 
Danish govenunent^ which has oonducted the trade ever 

Though so long separated from the original stock, the 
people of Faroe axe still found to retain many of the 
clumicteristics of their Scandinavian anoestors. The 
greatest difference is in the southern islands, whose na- 
tives have a rounder &ce, speak more rapidly, and are 
more lively in their motions than those of the north. Thei 
Faroese in general possess open countenancee, a healthy 
complexion, and more varied haix than the Icelanders 
Brown ia, however, the prevailing colour, and in most of 
the islands it is cut short, but in Suderoe, according to 
the ancient custom, it is allowed to hang in long stn^^ 
tufts or ringlets over the shoulders^ andsometimea reaches 
to the middle of the back. In their general eharacter 
they still exhibit many of their paternal virtues, and 
with little education or art are an industrious contented 
race, the last quality, however, being apt to degenerate 
into a listless indifference. Their moral reputation is 
also very high, though their remote and inaccessiUe 
dwellings might seem destined only for a retreat <^ 
robbers and pimtes. Theft is almost unknown amcng 
them, and though the doors are never locked, yet nothiqg 
is ever stolen, even when famine is raging in the land. 
To foreigners they are particularly attentive, ever ready 
to anticipate their wants, or to communicate all the in- 
formation in their power. They appear to take great 
delight in conversing with them, without, however, 
pressing themselves on their notice, or interruptiiig 
each other in answering questions. Their hospitality, 
it has been well remarked, is, to a miad not altogetha 
devoid of feeling, truly affecting. When a stranger asp- 
proaches a cottage, the master meets him at the door, 
stretches out his hand, and bidding him welcome, leads 
him into the house. He then produces the brandy bottle, 
and filling a glass, first tastes it himself, and then pre- 
sents it to his guest with a renewed welcome. After 


this the females of the fiunOj make their appearance 
and salute the yisiter, — a ceremony from which the 
amtman is alone exempted. In a peasant's dwelling 
Graha was treated to brandy, cofiee, and other refresh- 
ments ; then the wife, her husband being absent at the 
conrty insisted on showing him the honse and premises ; 
when this was finished, he found another meal prepared 
for him ; yet for all this it would have been thought a 
great insult to have ofiered any recompense, the lady 
thimking him for the honour he had done her poor dwell- 
ing, and compelling him to promise to remain some days 
vviih her if he again returned to that place. In every 
habitation there is a room set apart for guests, and 
never used by any of the &mily. The best food they 
possew is also set before them, and the only recompense 
that can be made or will be accepted, is a present 
to the wife or daughter of a few yards of ribbon or 
a tHk napkin. 

The Faroese are in general remarkably intelligent, — a 
ciieumstance probably occasioned by the varied nature 
of their employments, which improves and strengthens 
their mental endowments. Such are the propriety and 
acnteness of their remarks that Graba declares he 
would rather converse a whole day with one of them, 
than half-an-hour with a common German peasant. 
They are, at the same time, fond of reading, and eager 
for information on all subjects. Education was formerly 
conducted, as in Iceland, by the parents, the long winter 
evenings being employed for this purpose, as there was 
no school in the country. This is still the case in most 
of the islands, each father teaching his children reading, 
writing, and religion, as he himself was taught. About 
ten years ago, however, a school on the Lancasterian me- 
thod was established at Thorshavn, and had soon an at- 
tendance of upwards of a hundred scholars. It was 
visited by the author now mentioned when at that 
place, who found the pupils possessed of a very exten- 
sive knowledge of reading, writing, arithmetic, and 

Even the very amusements of this people are more 


simple than those found among many savage nations. 
Music, till it began to be taught in the school at Thors- 
havn, was hardly known even by name, though the 
children manifest no incapacity to learn it. With the 
exception of the Danish authorities it is doubtful if any 
individual in Faroe has a musical instrument. The sing- 
ing in the churches is of the most defective character, 
many of the clerks, according to the writer just quoted, 
not possessing half the professional talent of a northern 
diver. Their dancing is equally simple with their 
music, and consists merely in twelve or sixteen of them 
taking each other by the hand, and moving slowly round, 
singing at the same time some traditionary tale or love- 
song. The airs are sometimes wild, and not without 
harmony, though in general rather monotonous. Often 
in fine weather they continue dancing in this manner 
for hours at a time, all dressed in their best clothes, and 
joining in the song. 

The food of the Faroese is principally barley-meal 
or groats, milk, flesh, and fish ; whilst bread, b^, and 
salt are reckoned among articles of luxury, and brandy 
is only drunk on festive occasions. The breakfast con- 
sists in general of barley-bread, with milk or &t, and 
in autumn, when the lambs are killed, of their blood 
boiled with milk. Dinner is formed of fish and water- 
gruel in which bones or suet has been boiled, or of soup 
made of meat and turnip-leaves. On holidays a large 
pot is put on the fire, in which sea-birds are boiled for 
supper. Among their greatest delicacies they reckon 
dried lamb, eaten raw with tallow, and dried whale- 
flesh, which has often hung in the air for more than 
twelve months, and is said somewhat to resemble in 
taste and toughness a piece of leather. The whale 
is also eaten fr^h, and resembles coarse beef, with but 
little flavour. Several kinds of sea-fowl are used, of 
which the pufiins are thought the best, to which they 
also add the guillemots and young cormorants. The 
quantity of fat consumed by them is enormous ; and it 
is said that after the Faroese have feasted on a &esh 
whale for a fortnight, their fiices, hands^ and even their 


hair, glance with the hlubber^ which seems as if oozing 
firom every pore.* 

The clothing of the Faroese consists almost entirely 
of woollen stuff of their own manufacture, as only the 
more wealthy have linen shirts. When in fiill dress 
the men wear a long frock of dark brown or black, 
reaching to the knees, and equally wide at the top and 
bottom. In front there is a row of buttons, the holes 
for which are sewed with red worsted. The waistcoat 
and breeches are of the same black cloth, and are in 
like manner adorned at the pockets and knees with 
red and white buttons. The stockings are of black, 
gray, or blue wool, and the shoes of one piece of yellow 
sheepskin, and are so thin and pliable that the toes 
can be used in climbing the rocks. The cap is gene- 
rally striped with red and blue, and is about nine inches 
high. The attire of the females differs little frx)m that of 
peasants in Scotland, except in the headdress. Young 
women wear the hair bare till they are married ; after 
which it is combed back, and covered with a white 
linen cap, on which a stiff broad border of coarse lace 
rises perpendicularly, and is fastened under the chin by 
a coloured kerchief.t 

Thorshavn being the only town in the islands, the 
most of the inhabitants live dispersed in small villages 
in the neighbourhood of the cultivated land. These 
boigdelags, as they are called, are always placed near the 
sea, usually where two mountains sink down so as to 
form a level valley, or where the declivity of the hill is 
such that the ground, generally of decomposed rock, can 
be tilled. The cultivated fields or indmark are surround- 

• Graba, Tagebuch, pp. 120, 145, 214, 228. Landt, p. 374- 
376. According to Debes, before usin^ this tallow, it is first 
allowed to rot a little, and is then melted into cakes of 36 lbs. each, 
which are buried in the moist earth, and thought the better the 
longer they are kept. This is the great wealth of the natives ; and 
at foreign pirates have little inclination to take it from them, ** may 
therefore not unreasonably be termed a hidden treasure, which 
rust doth not consume, nor thieves steaWway," pp. 264, 265. 

t Debes, p. 270. Landt, p. 376-381. Graba, Tagebuch, 
p. 3(W2. 


ed with high stone walls, to protect fhem fir6tn the 
cattle which feed with perfect freedom in the ndmarkei 
or nncoltiyated ground heyond. The Tillage consfsts of 
single houses, arranged in rows or groups, according t^ 
the nature of the locality. On some laige unconnected 
stones, or the hare rock, they place cross-beams, to 
which six or eight upright posts aro fixed, wMoh form 
the skeleton of the house, and support a roof of hoards 
covered with barley-straw or birch-bark from Norway, 
which is thought better for resisting the moisture. On 
this is placed grass turfs, from six to nine inches thick, 
on which is seen the first groen of spring long before 
the verdure in the fields has begun to appear. The 
walls are covered with boards, those on the outflide being 
placed lengthways, and protected by tar from the mois- 
ture; those in the interior run up and down, and aie 
either smoothly planed or painted. In the rooms there- 
fore nothing is seen but wood, even round the chimney 
and fireplace, yet fires are said to be extremely rare, 
as the timber when saturated with turf-smoke is not 
readily inflammable. In the poorer dwellings a h(^ 
in the roof serves for both chimney and window, being 
closed with a board during rain, and the apartment ac- 
cordingly is at once dark and full of smoke. The' better 
houses are more inhabitable, though often so low tiriit 
one cannot stand upright in them. The best room, or 
strangers' apartment, has glass windovns, a down-bed, 
chest of drawers, a long table, with benches or chain^ 
and is generally kept clean and neat. Next to this is a 
small kitchen or dairy, and then the common dwelling, 
here well named roegstue or smoke-room, in whidi 
the fire is placed either close to the wooden walls, or in 
the middle of the apartment. In this are beds for the 
family, tables, chairs, and their spinning-wheels and 
looms. Next is the house for the cows, composed of atones 
and carefully plastered with mud. Then follow tibie 
buildings for dr3ring flesh and fish; the former of thin 
laths of wood an inch separate fh)m each other, in which 
the sheep killed in autumn are hung i;p to dry, and 
often remain a year. The latter is merely a tdi^t roo^ 


' sopporUd on stoae pillars^ in whicli the fish are sus- 
pended on sticks.* 

The manner of life of this people i% as might be ex- 
pected^ simple in the extreme. They labour willingly 
and industriously^ but their pride will not permit them to 
seek work. A servant never inquires after a master, 
and a fisherman vnll sooner starve than ask the proprietor 
of a boat to take him along with him. Both must look 
put fi>r assistants, and these when procured always re- 
. (quire to be treated as the equal of llxeir employer. One 
oif the clergymen having sent to some workmen to say 
Ijbat they must do so and so, received for answer that 
jthey did not understand the word ^^must ;" if it was 
^ eommand they would not follow it, but if a request 
ihc^ would willingly do what he desired. The pastor, 
offended at this^ answered that they might understand it 
as they chose ; to which they replied, that they would 
jtake it as a wish. Farmers in like manner have often 
to. do the work themselves which they have ordered their 
iservants to perform, and it is not unusual when one of 
the latter is called in the morning for him to reply, 
^I don't wish to get up." The great employment 
in the summer months is fishing, in which they are 
.firequently exposed to the wind and rain during twenty- 
fonr hours, with nothing in the boat except a piece of 
^ dried fish, barley-bread, and cold water. When suc- 
cessful they sometimes gain a dollar a-day, but often 
jetum with a single fish, which must be divided be- 
tween the proprietor of the boat, the church, and the 
four fishermen who generally go together. The storms 
also frequently prevent them from putting to sea for 
several days, and even at Thorshavn, fresh fish can 
hardly be procured oftener than twice a- week. 

At other times, during the summer, the natives are 
employed in preparing hay, or cultivating their field?, 
which is done entirely with the hoe, as the rocky soU 
precludes the use of the plough. They have often to 
travel nules to look after their sheep, and they must 

• Graba, Tagebncb, pp. 28, 85-68. Laadt, p. 381-385. 


sometimes run a greater distance before they can find a 
horse when they require it. There are no wheel-car- 
riages in the country, and the turf is brought home from 
the moors in wooden panniers or baskets slung across 
the animal's back. Where the sea-fowl haunt, the na- 
tives are occupied some weeks gathering their eggs and 
yoimg, or in catching the old birds. In winter both 
sexes are employed in spinning wool, and in knitting or 
weaving it into various articles of dress, whilst the long 
evenings are set apart for the instruction of the children. 

There are few mechanics who £d11ow separate trades 
in those islands, with the exception of some smiths and 
carpenters in Thorshavn and some other of the larger 
Tillages. Every one prepares all that he requires, ma^ng 
not merely his own woollen coat and shirt, but his own 
house and boat. There are accordingly few or no arti- 
ficers in Faroe, and these are mostly self-taught, though 
the people seem naturally to have a mechanical turn. 
Landt mentions two who were comb-makers, and others 
who manufactured buttons of horse-hair ; Graba found the 
sysselman of Waagoe famed for boat-building and making 
knives ; whilst the same functionary in Suderoe made 
and repaired clocks and watches without any instruction.* 

Such are the common employments of the natives of 
these islands, to most of which they have been led by 
the nature of the country they inhabit. For the same 
reason they closely resemble those of the inhabitants of 
the western isles of our own country, — 

** Where the plain harmless native his small flock. 
And herd dimmutive of many hnes. 
Tends on the little island's verdant swell. 
The shepherd's sea-girt reign ; or, to the rocks 
Dire-dinginff, gathers his ovarious food; 
Or sweeps the fishy shore ; or treasures np 
The plumage, rising full, to form the bed 
Of luxury.'* 

The most important, probably, of all these occupations 
are the fisheries, though they are by no means carried to 
such an extent as might seem practicable, and have latter- 
ly been less successful owing to the fish deserting the 

* Landt, pp. 366, 367. Graba, pp. 72-74, 99. 


shores or changing their ground. The pursuit of the cod 
and herring is preferred by the natives, and most of those 
caught are salted for exportation. Besides these they 
also catch the haddock, sey or green cod (^Merlangus 
viren8)y torsk, plaice, and flounder, which are chiefly 
used by themselves. The taking of whales, though more 
lucrative, is only pursued when those huge animals 
approach their shores, and is thus very uncertain. Few 
words have a more agreeable sound to the Faroese than 
the word grind, whale. If mentioned in a company, 
every fece brightens up with joy, and the intelligence 
that a shoal has been seen approaching the islands ope- 
rates like an electric shock, the whole village, old and 
young, being instantly in motion. The grind is the ca'ing 
whale (Delphinus melas) of Orkney and Shetland, where 
it occurs in large herds, and measures about twenty feet 
in length and eight or ten in circumference. When 
Graba was at Thorshavn a number were discovered, 
and the signal was given by a jacket suspended from a 
mast. Immediately the joyful sound of ^^ Grindabud" 
echoed from every comer of the town, and the streets 
were filled with men running to the boats with their 
whale-spears in their hands, whilst their careful wives 
followed them with some dried fish for food on the sea, 
the chase often lasting more than a day. In ten minutes 
eleven eight-oared boats were pushing out to sea, whilst 
two at the southern end of Nalsoe had already hoisted 
the joyful signal. Pillars of smoke were ascending from 
the surrounding islands, and the whole fiord was soon 
crowded with persons anxious to share the chase and 
spoil. The boats, at about a hundred paces from each 
other, formed a semicircle round the fi^, urging them 
slowly forward to the bay of Thorshavn. Scarcely a 
fourth of the animals were visible, — sometimes one raised 
its head spouting out a column of water, and again only 
the high back-fin or a small part of the body was seen. 
When they tried to pass the boats they were turned 
back by stones or pieces of lead fiistened to the fishing- 
lines cast into the sea. As they drew near the shore, 
vrhich swarmed with men ready to begin the work of 


'destmctioii, tbey became move and moieiesOeflBy pvea»- 
• iog together ioto a close band, and pajring leas iregard 
ta the stones or blows of the oaxa. At the cntTance of 
the Westerraagy which is about 250 paces broad. and 
twice as long, the fish, tired of being diiven forwftrd Eke 
' A flock of sheep, seemed aboat to turn, whilst the opon- 
. tenanoes of the pursaexs betmyed a corions mixtnie of 
fear, hope, amdety, and expectation. Raising a loud 
eiy, they forced their boats into the herd, stiikkig them 
with their harpoons. The wonnded animals rushed 
' forward with frightful rapidity, followed by the whole 
crowd, and soon ran themselves oa the ahoie. Then be- 
gan the work of death. The men in the boats hastened 
alter the fish, piercing them with their lances^ whilst 
those on shore rushed into the water, cutting them with 
their knives, or fastening a rope to the blowing^hide of 
the wounded, by which they were drawn to land md 
. despatched. The dying animals beat the water furiously 
with their tails, or spouted out a stream of bloods fiom 
their nostrils, so that the pure crystal of the harbour 
was soon converted to crimson. The character of the 
inhabitants seemed completely changed, and their fiMses, 
hands, and clothes stained with gore, with their inflamed 
countenances, in which no trace of compassion was visible, 
made them look more like the cannibals of the South 
Seas than the mild and gentle natives of Faroe. On 
this occasion it was found that eighty whales had been 
killed ; and some that had escaped into the clear water, 
again returned and shared the fate of their companions. 
After a short repose the division of the spoil succeeds, 
which is performed by the sysselman of tiie district, if 
possible in the presence of the amtman, as it is often 
impossible for the former to keep order amongst so many 
excited and interested individuds. The disbibution is 
made according to old regulations ; and it is curious that 
in Normandy, where this species of whale was formerly 
caught in the same manner, a law stUl exists reguktiiig 
the division on the same principle. Each fish is measured, 
and its size marked on its skin in Roman numbers, — the 
tithe is then set apart, the largest whale given to the 


lioat whieh first diseorered the shoal, thela othenr for the 
poor and cleigyixum aie selected, and ihe remainder are 
diyided accoidhig to stated mles between the proprietor of 
the gronnd and the persons who drove them on shore. 
The flesh is either eaten fresh or out into slices and hong 
up to dry, whilst the blubber is partly oonverted into 
train^^itl or salted in casks or barrels, and, when these fidl, 
in boats. The £Eit on the sides of tl^ fish, when hung for 
a week or two, will keep for years, and is used instead of 
bacon by the natives.* 

Besides this there is another species of whale, caught 
chiefly at Qualboe, in a very aingnUr manner. This is 
the beaked variety {BdUena roatrata\ which is &om 
twenty-eight to thirty feet long. When an individual is 
seen on the sur&ce of the water the fishermen gently ap- 
proach it, and one of them tickles it on the back with an 
oar, by which it is so pleased that it allows another to stop 
up its blowing-holes with his woollen mitten or stocking, 
which prevents it from sinking. They then cut a hole 
in the blubber, carefrilly ^voiding the flesh, through which 
they fasten a fishing-line, and pull it sofdy to the shore, 
where they quickly destroy it with their spears.t 

The seals form another source of gain to the Faroese, 
and of them there are two species sought after : The 
first is the common seal (^phooa vUuUna)^ which is 
usually shot sleeping on the rocks ; the other, ihephoca 
hisjrida^ is caught in the caves to which it retires to bring 
forth its young. The men enter these retreats in boats^ 
and destroy with clubs first the old ones and then the 
calves. In some cases it is necessary to use torches, 
which blind the animals, and give the fibers an advantage 
over them, though they often, especially the males, 
defend themselves with great fierceness, and many of 
them escape. The females are more easily secured, either 
remaining by their young, or returning to them though 
they may have fled at the first. The mothers often push 

* Graba, p. 222-233. Landt, p. dd6-363. Debes, p. 171-177. 

-|- This story seems rather marvellous, but is confirms by all the 
writers on Faroe. See Debes, p. 179-181. Landt, p. 363. Graba, 
p. 205. The blubber of this whale is not e&ten^ as it impacts a 
yellow colour and fetid smell to the clothes. 


the little ones into the sea, but even there, from thenr 
ignorance of swimming, their pursuers speedily despatch 
them. In each den there is an old seal called by the 
natiyes the latuveijar, or defender of the cave, which they 
are afi!aid to attack unless sure of assistance. Eight or 
ten seals are generally killed at a time in these recesses^ 
but sometimes twenty or thirty, though they are now 
fewer and shyer than formerly. The skins are used for 
shoes, and the &t is melted into oil, but few of the people 
eat the flesh, though it is said to be well tasted.* 

The inhabitants of Faroe use almost every species 
of sea-fowl for food, with the exception of the guUfi^ 
skuas, and cormorants. All the others, particularly the 
auks, guillemots^ and puffins, are eaten either fresh, 
salted, or dried ; and in May the population of many 
islands subsist entirely on ^;gs. The sea-fowl are here 
caught in three ways, either by the line from a boat^ 
or by the fowling-pole or net. The last is the sim- 
plest and least dangerous method. To the end of a 
staff ten or twelve feet long, two other pieces are 
fixed like the prongs of a fork, at about eighteen inches 
from each other, between which is stretched a net with 
meshes about two inches wide. The fowler, provided 
with this instrument, is rowed under the rocks where 
the young birds on leaving the nest usually sit ; when, 
as they are by no means shy, he easily casts the net over 
them ; and, as they always seek refuge in the water, they 
push their heads through the meshes and remain hang- 
ing till pulled into the boat and killed by breaking their 
necks. The second method, by climbing the rocks from 
the sea, is more dangerous, and usually conducted by 
four in company. Two remain in the boat to collect 
the birds thrown down to them from above, whilst the 
other two, fastened together by a rope fifty or sixty feet 
long, ascend the precipice. The one scrambles up the 
cliff, assisted by his companion, who pushes him upwards 
by means of a small boa^ fixed to the end of a long pole, 
tUl he has reached a place where he can stand securely. 

* Landt, p. 344. Debes, p. 166-170. Graba, p. 208-214. 


He then draws the second up by the line fastened to both 
their bodies, and this process is continued alternately 
till they have reached the shelves where the fowls haunt. 
On many of these the birds are so tame as to allow them- 
selves to be caught with the hand ; on others they are 
taken in the net as they fly past, and where plentiful, 
frequently two or three at a time, so that in a few hours 
some hundreds are killed and thrown down. In descend- 
ing the process is reversed, but accidents, by the falling of 
the rock or slipping of one of the fowlers, often occur. 

The last mode, which is at once the most common and 
successful, is by letting a man down from the top of 
the clijQfs by a rope. This is about three inches thicky 
and from 600 to 1200 feet long, and is listened to the 
waist and thighs by a broad woollen band, on which he 
sits. The fowler (fuglemand) is let down by this over 
the perpendicular rocks, the rope being prevented from 
chafing by a piece of smooth wood on which it slides. 
The daring adventurer soon loses sight of his companions, 
and can only communicate with them by a small line 
attached to his body. It requires great skill to pre- 
vent the turning round of the cord, the inexperienced 
being wheeled about in a circle, and thus exposed to 
great danger. When he reaches the terraces, often not 
more than a foot broad, he frees himself from the rope, 
&stens it to a stone, and commences his pursuit of the 
feathery natives. Where the nests are in a hollow of 
the rock, the bird-catcher gives himself a swinging 
motion by means of his pole till the vibration carries 
him so close that he can get footing on the clifl^ He 
can communicate a motion to himself of thirty or forty 
feet, but when the shelf lies deeper, another rope is let 
down to his associates in the boat, who can thus give 
him a swing of 100 or 120 feet. When the labour is 
over, the man is drawn up by his companions. Where 
the rocks are less elevated, one person can &sten a line 
to the top and let himself down alone. 

This occupation is attended with many dangers. The 
greatest care cannot prevent the rope from sometimes 
breaking : a stone detached from the clifls fsdls on the 

332 ;DEscitiPxioN jlnd history of fabx>j^ 

unfortunate fowler, or in swinging himseli^ he misses his 
footing and is dashed against the rock. When landed 
on the terrace new dangers await him : he may lose his 
balance and &11 into the sea, or the projection on which 
he rests may itself give way. The number of fowh^ 
howeyer, caught in this manner, is sufficient to induce 
the hardy natives to risk their lives. They complain, 
indeed, though in some places without sufficient reason^ 
that the birds are constantly decreasing. On a small 
dreng, or isolated rock in the sea, 2400 puffins, which are 
taken in their holes without any danger, havebeen secured 
in one year, and 5000 old birds, with their eggs, have been 
obtained in three days on Store Dimon. On, Lille Di- 
mon, the number formerly caught is said to have been 
7000 annuJEilly, though at present it does not exceed 
■2000, and one man has been known to enclose with his 
net 950 birds in a single day.* 

Nature has placed great hindrances in the way of any 
extensive cultivation in Faroe. The short summer is oft^ 
interrupted by weeks of continued rain, during which 
the sun's rays seldom penetrate the l^ck mists and 
clouds. The soil of decomposed trap is fertile, but in 
general extremely thin, and broken into smiall patches 
by projecting points of rock, which prevent the use of 
the plough. In those places where the form of the 
land would permit it to accumulate in greater abun- 
dance, the cold damp climate has produced a formation 
of peat very unfavourable to vegetation. Agriculture 
is iherefore, as might be expected, in no very flourishing 
condition, and the ground is prepared in a careless 
slovenly style. The manure is carried to the fields on 
horses' backs, or in some very steep places by men, and 
scattered on the fields, which are arranged in sloping 
beds or ridges running &om the top to the bottom 
of the declivities. The seed is not harrowed, but mixed 
with the soil by spades, and the surface levelled by 
beating it with a flat board. The usual crop is barley, 
as no other species of grain succeeds, and even this 

* Landt, p.333-343. Graba, p. 110.117. Debes, p. 143, &e. 


seldom ripens. Potatoes are increasing in &Tour, and 
turnips are also cultivated. In Stromoe, the return is 
only, even in the most fertile spots, firom six to eight fold, 
but in Sandoe and Suderoe sixteen or even twenty fold 
is not uncommon. The inhabitants are obliged to sow 
their own half-ripe shrivelled com year after year, as the 
grain imported from Denmark has had its vegetative 
power destroyed by being kiln-dried. As no grass seeds 
are ever sown, the land, after the crop is removed, 
remains barren for three years, when it is again covered 
with grass, in which there is at first a large proportion 
of sorreL This is succeeded by finer herbage, but in 
six or eight years the field must be again broken up to 
destroy the moss which chokes the grass. The hay 
harvest is exposed to great uncertainty from the frequent 
rains ; and violent hurricanes often destroy the best hopes 
of a plenteous crop. The ears of the barley are com- 
monly plucked off by the hand, and the com trodden 
out by the women walking or leaping on a wooden 
floor. It is made into meal by a simple hand-mill, as 
it happens to be required for the family, though water- 
xnills have lately been introduced. The cultivated ground 
does not amount to a sixtieth of the whole, and the in- 
habitants have to supply their scanty crops by importing 
barley, rye, and pease from the continent. 

Gsffdening is much neglected in those islands, though 
many of our most useful vegetables would grow. Pease, 
salad, radishes, parsley, parsnips, carrots, and several 
species of cabbage, all succeed, though they sufi^r oc- 
casionally firom tiie high winds. Several of the fuel on 
the shore are eaten, and there are many wild antiscorbutic 
plants of great value to the natives. Various attempts 
have been made to plant trees in Faroe, but all without 
success, as they rarely survive the first or second winter. 
There are, accordingly, no firuit-trees in the gardens, if we 
except black and red currants, with a few wild berries.* 

* Lsndt, p. 274-302. Uasiel, toI. x. p. 211. The older ezperi. 
ments on raising trees will b^ found in Landt, p. 302-306» and Rome 
more recent ones, principally by the clergy, in Graba, p. 191-194. 


More attention is paid to the feeding of cattle than to 
agriculture, the fields being in many parts covered 
with thick grass unmixed with any noxious weeds. 
This branch of industry might be greatly increased were 
it not for the difficulty of procuring hay for their winter 
food. The horses are small but spirited, strong and sure- 
footed. They seem of the Norwegian or Shetland breed, 
are of a dark colour, with large heads^ and so low 
that the rider's feet easily touch tiie ground. They are 
seldom used for riding, and their whole caparison is in 
most cases nothing more than a woollen dotli and halter 
of the same materials, bits or stirrups being unknown. 
They receive no care or attention from their masters, b^* 
ing allowed to remain the whole year in the open air ; 
and it is said that a good one may be bought for six 
Danish dollars, or thirteen shillings sterling. The cows 
are also small and ill-shaped, but from the rich pasture 
frequently become very fat, the carcass weighing eighteen 
or twenty stone. Their original sheep were a peculiar 
breed, but as others have often been introduced frx)m 
Iceland and Shetland, they now vary much in different 
places. In the northern islands they are white, but in 
the southern brown or black, and the wool is of a toler- 
ably good quality. They are either partly or altogether 
wild, and remain in the open field tiie whole year, ex- 
cept in the spring and autumn, when they are driven 
into enclosures. The first time is for the wool, which is 
not shorn, but, as in Iceland, pulled off the sheep. This 
appears more cruel than it ready is, as only that part of 
the fieece which is ready to fall of its own accord is 
taken, and the rest sufiered to remain fourteen days 
longer, when they are again collected. The whole wool 
is gathered into a heap and divided among the &rmers 
in proportion to the extent of their ground. The sheep 
are again brought together in autumn, when those are 
selected which are to be killed. The flocks are some- 
times pretty numerous, one peasant possessing from 
400 to 500. The only other domestic ftnimf^la are a 
few swine and dogs, the latter of which are so highly 


valued that a cow is occasionally given in exchange for 

The farmers in Faroe are either proprietors of their 
land, named Odelshond, or hold it from Uie crown on the 
payment of a certain tax, var3ring according to the quality 
of the soil. There are a few who rent ground from 
private persons, and others who live entirely by fishing. 
The population in 1769 amounted to 4775, of whom 4558 
belonged to the class of peasants^ 108 were citizens^ and 
119 were of the clerical order. In 1812 it had increased 
to 5209, of whom 2588 were males and 2621 females ; 
the confirmed persons of the former sex being 1766, 
and of the latter 1815. Since that time it has continued 
to improve, and on the 18th February 1834 the islands 
contabied 6928 inhabitants. For the credit of the people 
it may be mentioned that the illegitimate children only 
average from three to six in the year. Marriages cannot 
be contracted without the permission of the authorities, 
who sometimes refuse it when the parties are not able to 
showsome means of supporting a fiunily,— ^ circumstance 
often productive of bad effects. The inhabitants are ex- 
tremely healthy and live to a great age, and an old man of 
ninety-three lately rowed the governor's boat nearly ten 
miles. The population, however, increases very slowly, 
though the islands could easily support considerably 
more, and but few diseases are prevalent among them. 
Of these fevers and rheumatism are the most common, 
and a curious epidemic sickness which often prevails 
after the arrival of the ships from Denmark in the spring, 
though it does not attack strangers. This is a kind of 
catarrhal fever named Kii'im by the natives, many of 
whom think that it is brought by the captains of the 
ships in a box. It often proves fatal, and spreads so 
rapidly that in eight days from its appearance at Thors- 
havn, of 140 children only seven could attend school, 
and it was with great difficulty that ten men could be 
procured to work a boat.t 

* Has., vol. X. p. 212. Landt, p. 308-333. Oraba, pp. 130, 200-202. 

i' Hassel, p. 214. Landt, p. 407-414. Graba, pp. 89, 91 , 1 17, 

147» 191. It is somewbat singular that Pexmant mentions a simi- 


The trade of these islands is yeiy inconsiderable/ 
though of snfficient importance to be retained as a go- 
Yemment monopoly. The principal exports are wool, 
woollen stockings, amounting to 112,000 or 120,000 pairs 
annually, jackets, train-oil, feathers^ and skins. Tallow, 
fish dried or salted, and butter are also eaq[K>zted ; but 
in small quantiti£HS, as they are mostly consumed by 
the inhabitants, llie whole amount has been calculated 
at from 30,000 to 36,000 rixdoUais, or from £3300 to 
£4000. The imports, of about equed value, are chiefly 
grain, fishing lines and hooks, wood, iron, lead, nails, gun. 
powder, tar, salt, brandy, tobacco, and a little sugar and 
oofiee, together with a few books for schools, for amuse- 
ment, and also for religious purposes. Two ediips are en^ 
ployed in the trade, which together usually make five Toy- 
ages in the year. It is the universal wish on the isIandB 
that this monopoly should be aboli^ed, as the peopls 
are charged fifty per cent, above the real price fi>r the 
articles imported, and receive as much less for those that 
they export. Even Grabs, though a Danish subject, and 
a supporter of the present system, admits that the 
Faroese could both sell their own produce to better ad- 
vantage, and supply their wants at a cheaper rate, in Soot- 
land than at Copenhagen. But he thinks that, even if free^ 
their trade would soon become a monopoly of one house, 
and the inhabitants be no better off in good years than 
at present ; whilst they could not expect as much as- 
sistance from the government as they now receive in 
cases of want. Landt states that the profits of this trade 
amounted, in the thirty-one years from 1749 to 1780, to 
197,237 rixdollars, but from this the other would subtract 
the loss sustained by the crown on com, which is always 
sold at a fixed price. The best proof of the advantage 
of this commerce is its continuance, though to it we must 
ascribe the depressed state and apathy of the natives^ 

lar disease as occurring in St Kilda immediately after the arrival 
of a stranger, and in the islands of the Pacific the first Europeans 
generally occasion some fatal malady, though themselves perfectly 


which however it seems by no means the policy of their 
rulers to amend.* 

As already mentioned, the ecclesiastical affairs were 
formerly conducted by a bishop, for whom, soon after 
the introduction of the protestant religion, a provost or 
dean was snbstituted. This person was subordinate to 
the !l^ushop of Bergen so long as the trade was carried 
on from that town, but when this intercourse ceased, the 
superintendence was transferred to the bishop of Copen- 
hagen. There is now a provost or dean and seven 
clergymen, each of whom has from four to seven 
churches in his parish, in which he has to officiate. 
There are in all thirty-nine congregations ; some, sepa- 
rated from the principal edifice by arms of the sea, are 
visited but once in six or seven weeks, and in two 
places only twice in the year. The people do not 
however neglect divine service in the absence of their 
pastor, but meet regularly in the church, where one 
of themselves reads the prayers and a printed sermon 
or homily. Worship is conducted entirely in the 
Danish language, which is imderstood by all the na- 
tives, and most of the clergymen are of that nation. 
This has a very bad effect on the intercourse between the 
ministenr and people, as the former are always anxious 
to return home, and seldom remain more than six 
yean in Faroe, after which they have a preference to 
^e best livings in Denmark. That mutual friend- 
ship and confidence which can only grow up after 
years of acquaintance is thus completely lost. For- 
merly both the civil and ecclesiastical authorities were, 
with much reason, accused of intemperance and laziness, 
but this has now ceased to be the case, especially since 
the governor Von Tillisch established a library at Thora- 
havn, which in 1828 numbered 800 volumes, mostiy 
historical and theological. The language of the people 
is scarcely ever written, though Pastor SchrMder, a na- 
tive of the islands, has translated the Gospel of St 
Matthew into it. This version has been published by 

* Husel, yol. x. p. 213. Landt, p. 372-374. Graba, pp. 5u 


the Danish Bible Society, but unfortunately to little 
purpose, as it IS said that no Faroese can understand 
it. The revenue of the clergy, arising partly from 
voluntary offerings, church fees, their share (one third) 
of the tithes, and the produce of their glebes, is veiy 
inconsiderable, and by no means sufficient to compensate 
for the labours and privations they must undergo. The 
churches are extremely small, similar in construction to 
the houses of the peasants, and in general entirely desti- 
tute of ornament.* 

The political government of Faroe is similar to that 
of Iceland, though on a smaller scale. At the head of the 
whole is an amtman or governor, who is at the same tSme 
usually commander at Thorshavn. The landvolgt is pre- 
sident of the court of justice^ from which there is an i^peal 
to the supreme tribunal at Copenhagen. The other,m9m- 
bers are the lagman or chief justice, the 8orenscrivei^«id 
the six sysselmen, who, though witliout education,^ are 
the judges in their respective districts. The landfoigt 
is also president of the consistory or ecclesiastical synod 
of the seven clergymen. The revenue is principally 
derived from the taxes, tithes, quit-rents, and royal 
domains. Of the first the moi^ important is a certain 
quantity of tallow or wool and so many skins paid,by 
the farmers in proportion to the number of sheep which 
they possess or kill. The wool thus collected is sold to 
the natives of Thorshavn at a fixed price, the other ]^ 
duce being sent to Denmark. The whole revenue in 
1790 was only 3172 dollars, and Hassel wace then states 
it at 2700, which does not pay the expenses of adminiB- 
tering the government. These islands are thus but of 
veiy inconsiderable importance to the crown ; nor, unlOdB 
a more liberal mode of management, and one better fitUd 
to develop the internal resources of the country, llB 
adopted, is it at all probable that the revenue w31 

* Debes, p. 315, &c. Landt, pp. 69, 415-421. Gnba, paiSk 
f Hassel, rol. z. p. 215. Landt, p. 414. 

OHOLpGT. 3^ 



Greenland — Iczlavd— Qeognphieal Distribation of Rodu— Trap 
FoKMATiON — Stratifieation — Regularity and Distinotnesfr^ 
Size — Veins — Extent — Walls of Diupavog — Horizontal Coloaioa 
—Formation of Fissures — Constituoits of Trap Rocks — Under 
Division — Neptunian Strata — Basis of the Island — Surturbrand 
— Fossil Plants— Date of these Strata — Upper Trap Rocks — 
Transition to the Trachyte — Origin of Trap — Trachttb Foe- 
MATioN— Appearance and Composition— - Cavernous Lava- 
Origin of Jokul Mountains — The Baula^-^Ievation of the 
Island — Rbcxnt Formations — Lava — Arrangement of Vol- 
canoes — Guldbringe Syssel — List of Volcanoes and Eruptions — 
Aqueous Deposites — Fossil Shells— Elevation of the Land — 
Effects on Climate — Minxrals — Calcedony— Zeolites— Ice- 
land Spar — Copper — Obsidian— Sulphur— Mines of Krisuvik — 
Husavik— Geology of Faroe— Trap— Tuffa^Coal— Dip of the 
Beds^- Veins — ^Conglomerate — Irregular Green8tone-.Bone Bed 
—Mineralogy — Aqueous Formation of Zeolite. 

.The Northern Ocean seems to form an immense basin 
bounded on the east and west by huge ranges of primi- 
tive mountains, and containing in its centre the volcanic 
foci of Iceland and Jan Mayen's Island. We already 
noticed the similar appearance of the opposite coasts of 
this ocean, and we may now observe that the identity 
also extends to their interior structure. Both these 
regions have been described in former volumes of this 
work, and we shall merely, for the sake of connexion, 
present a short summary of the geology of Greenland. 
Its mountains consist of primitive rocks, of which the 
most abundant are gneiss, micsrslate and granite. 
Besides these, clay-slate and primitive limestone, with 
porphyry, syenite, and various trap rocks, occur. The 

340 GEOLoor. 

most curious deposite, however, is the coal-fonnatioD, 
observed by Scoresby, in Jameson's Land, and which is 
regarded as belonging to the great carboniferous system, 
wherein so many pkmts of a tropical character are found. 
Brown coal, with embedded grains of amber, has also 
been described by Giesecke as occurring among Ihe trap 
rocks of Disco Island. No signs of recent volcanic energy 
have been seen in Greenland, which in this respect pre- 
sents a remarkable contrast to Iceland. 

This island possesses a character imparalleled in any 
region of equal extent on the globe. Formed almost 
entirely of igneous rocks, we can, in its precipitous clifis 
and moimtain-defiles, trace a complete series from the 
old traps formed beneath the superincumbent ocean, to 
the most recent productions of the modem volcano whose 
stone-floods still retain ibheir elevated temperature. 
These powerful agents have influenced the whole stmo- 
tuve and appearance of the island, and are partly visible 
even in the moral character and history of its inhabitants. 

In the first chapter of this work a fuU description was 
given of the physical features of Iceland. Its monn- 
tain-chains, extending from S. W. to N. E., the great 
desert valley enclosed by them, with its boiling springs 
and volcanoes, the bold rocky coast, and the deep narrow 
fiords, were slU noticed. These peculiarities in the out- 
ward appearance are merely the signs of the difference 
in the geological structure of the interior. The dome- 
shaped jokuls, with the trough-like cavity between, 
are not more distinct from the terraced mountains and 
dark fiords of the coast, than are the massive trachyte 
rocks and lavas of the former from the horizontal traps 
of the latter. It is to these two formations, which com- 
pose almost the whole of Iceland, that we must ascribe 
the distinguishing features of its difierent districts ; and 
a knowledge of their relative geographical position thus 
becomes of great importance, not for the geology of the 
land alone, but also for its history and statistics.* 

* The striking contrast between these two formations is weD 
marked in the accompanying engraving taken from the Memoir ol 
Kriig von Nidda. 








t ■ 

) 1 

I . 

I ■ I 
\ > >■ 
• ! I, 

J > 


t f 


/ *-. 






i -^ 

• li 

■. > 



■ ( 



Iceland, then, consists of two principal rock formations ; 
the one presenting various traps arranged in vast horizon- 
tal beds ; the other, trachyte, in huge unshapely masses, 
associated with volcanic tufis, conglomerates, and lava 
streams. The boundaries of these rocks are in general 
extremely simple, being formed by two lines running 
nearly parallel from south-west to north-east. The first 
of these, in the south-east, passes from the mouth of the 
Lagerfliot, by the foot of the Smorfield, over Sniofell 
and the Klofa Jukul, to the southern coast. The second 
runs from the vicinity of Reikiavik, over Mosfell, west- 
ward of the volcanoes of Skialdbreid, Eriks, Bald, and 
Hofs Jokuls, in a north-east direction round the head of 
the Oe Fiord. These lines thus correspond to the chains 
of snowy mountains, most of which are enclosed between 
them. The included space, which is the trachyte-for- 
mation, is the seat of numerous volcanoes, and other 
channels of communication between the interior of the 
earth and the external atmosphere, which are nearly 
unknown in the rest of the island. The country to the 
eastward of the first of these lines is entirely trap, ex- 
tending from the Lagerfliot to the Klofa Jokul, and 
comprising nearly the whole of the Mule Syssel. That 
on the north-west of the second, though almost similar, 
is yet more complicated ; the trap in several places 
being broken through by the trachyte, the sources of 
which seem to lie at no great depth. The whole north- 
em coast is trap, which also extends along the shores 
of the western peninsula. In the interior of the latter, 
however, we find the Glama and Dranga Jokuls, whose 
rounded form and icy covering might lead us to refer 
them to a central mass of trachyte. This view is con- 
firmed by the pumice and slags brought down by the 
streams, and by the disposition of the fiords, which 
render it probable that these mountains are the culmi- 
nating points of a semicircular trachyte nucleus. 

The next interruption to the trap is found in the 
Sneefield Syssel, forming the long narrow promontory 
between the Breida and Faxa Fiords, which, from its 
root in the land to its extremity in the majestic jokul, 

S(I2 GteoLdcrtr. 

is altogether trachyte. In the line of its prolongation to- 
wards the interior, numerous volcanic ecmes and trachyte' 
mountains connect it with the central mass of which it' 
thus constitutes only an inferior hrandu Some oth^. 
hills of this formation occur in the valley of the Nor*: 
dure ; after which, the whole coasts of the Borgar and 
Hval Fiords are composed of trap, which a little to the. 
south joins with the trachyte.* 

Every thing seems to point out the trap as the older 
of these formations, and we shall commence with it our 
more particular description of these rocks. This, as 
seen in the sections, presents a series of regular parallel 
heds, superimposed one on the other, and often extend- 
ing as far as the eye can reach. These strata^ as they 
may he called, vie in regularity with the true Neptunian 
deposites of other countries, in few of which is this 
peculiar structure hetter preserved, or seen on a more 
extended scale. The lofty walls of trap are divided 
Into a hundred such heds, nearly horizontal, of which 
the uppermost is at once parallel with the lowest and 
with the one immediately adjacent. The imaginative 
skalds of former days saw in these curious mural preci- 
pices the lahours of the old giants, who had expended 
their mighty powers in such majestic edifices: and even 
at the present day many of the natives give full credence 
to the sagas, and will not he persuaded that these won- 
derful huildings are, as they express it, the effect of 

Besides this division into horizontal strata, the imp, 
Owing to its columnar structure, has also a tendency to 
separate, imder the influence of the elements, in a per- 
pendicular direction. The upper and more exposed 
beds first experience the destroying effects of the moist- 
ure, which insinuates itself into their fissures ; and the 
frequent alternations of thaw and fix>st in those lofly 
regions, give it tenfold effect. The lower strata thus 

* Von Nidda, Karsten's Archiv. vol. vii. pp. 423-427, 440, 442. 
Okfsen, th. i. pp. 142, 144, says that the original regular rocb 
(trap) occur in the Sneefield, dipping N.N. W. and W., over 
wJliich the lavas have flowed. Compare MadLenxie, p. 1G7^ lee* 


project beyond the tipper, and the whole mountain is 
cat into a series of terraces in the most regular 
manner. On these the snow often remains a great part 
of the year, and hence the hill forms a succession of 
alternating white and black bands; a circumstance - 
which renders this structure visible even at a great dis- 
tance, and enables the observer to determine the nature 
of the rocks, even where they cannot be approached. 

As there is no reason to believe that these beds 
originally occupied their present position, it might 
be expected that they should bear marks of their eleva- 
tion in a distorted and confused arrangement. But 
soeh is not the case, the mighty power which raised 
them £rom the depths of ocean having produced little 
diange on their relative position. They are still nearly 
horizontal, and have only a slight inclination towards 
the central trachyte, seldom exceeding five degrees. This 
is not seen on the coast to which the outcrop of the beds 
it directed ; but is easily recognised on the fiords which 
cross the strata in the line of their dip. 

Many igneous rocks assume a stratified form which 
they do not really possess, having, either from some 
effect of crystallization on a great scale, or in the pro- 
cess of gradual cooling, separated into plates, the sides 
of which are nearly parallel. This appearance, however, 
is only external, there being no distinction in the com- 
poi^tion of the mass. But this is not the case in the 
trap rocks of Iceland, which in proportion as they are 
examined disclose difierences the more clearly marked. 
Sach stratum denotes a peculiar period of internal ac- 
tivity, separated from those adjoixung by intervals of re- 
pose ; and even seen from a distance each may be traced 
by some peculiarity, strongly distinguishing it from the 
one above and below. Its extraordinary thickness marks 
one, another is composed of separate pillars, whilst a 
tiiird is known by its colour. If we approach the 
mountain and examine the individual beds, other minuter 
characters, though equally constant over a long distance, 
appear. One stratum is a fine grained dolerite, an- 
other is porphyritic ; one constituent part prevails in a - 


third, whilst the yesiciilar cavities of a fourth are filled 
with some particular mineraL Bj these marks the 
rocks may be traced over large tracts of country, and 
even where the continuity is broken by an arm of the 
sea, can easily be recognised on the opposite sides. 

The thickness of l^e united strata cannot be deter- 
mined, as only that portion which rises above the 
ocean, which we have no reason to think the most exten- 
sive, can be measured. The dimensions thus obtained 
give only the minimum, which the whole mass must 
exceed ; but even thU is sufficient to strike us with 
astonishment. Near the Beru and Rode Fiords it attains 
an elevation of 4000 feet, and though this sinks in 
other places to 2500 and 8000 feet, yet, assuming even 
the lowest of these as the average of the whole, and 
recollecting that this formation covers more than one 
half of Iceland, or 20,000 square miles, we may form 
some idea of the immense body of fluid matter that has 
issued from the earth. Some of the individual strata, 
which in general are fifty or sixty feet thick, and ex- 
tend over several square miles, are not less striking, or 
less fitted to impress us with the vastness of the power 
to which they owe their existence. As this must have 
been all ejected in a fluid state at one eruption, the 
channels by which it found its way to the surface must 
be extremely numerous ; and as each of the hundred 
strata which are piled one above another has its peculiar 
veins, the number that intersect those near the bottom 
must be incalculable. 

The expectations excited by these considerations are 
fully realized by an examination of the rocks. The 
veins are not only very numerous, but present an equal 
variety of size and mineralogical cht^acter with the 
strata above. Some rise but a little way before they 
spread out and are lost in one of the beds, others pierce 
through several, and many ascend like ribbons to the 
summit of the mass. The connexion of the veins with 
the strata in which they terminate becomes very evident 
when we compare their contents, as notwithstanding 
the great variety in the composition of the latter, a 


BunOar variety is found in the former. In all those 
which end in one bed we find the closest resemblance 
both to it and to each other, all containing the same 
mineral constituents disposed in the same manner. In 
many the fluid matter may be seen, as it were, flowing 
over and spreading out to form the tabular mass ; an 
appearance which establishes in the plainest manner pos- 
sible their mutual connexion and mode of formation. 
In their thickness they are equally varied, some mea- 
suring a hundred feet, whilst others are only two or 
three ; yet the viscid matter is never found, as might 
have been expected, heaped up around the opening of the 
larger, but always extends in one uniform plane. They 
are also remarkable for their extraordinary extent, some 
having been traced through whole mountains for Ave 
or ten miles. One at Bulands Hofide has been followed 
nearly fifteen miles, and, as it extends about a mile 
into ike sea, is supposed by the natives to be the remains 
of a bridge built by a giantess across the bay. 

In the same neighbourhood, near the commercial sta- 
tion of Diupavog, on the Bern Fiord, there is a very curi- 
ous display of these veins, forming an instructive example 
of the numerous channels of communication with the 
interior of the earth. The strata have all been removed, 
and nothing remains except the solid contents of the 
veins standing like ruined walls. Though scarcely three 
or four feet in thickness, they are above a hundred in 
height, and at the same time so much inclined to one 
side, that it seems astonishing bow they do not fall to- 
gether. They run in all directions, some being parallel, 
while others intersect at the most varied angles, or even 
form cellular enclosures. He who inspects them seems 
to wander amidst the ruined dwellings and deserted 
streets of some mighty city. 

Notwithstanding that these veins resemble the strata 
or beds in which they terminate in many points, they 
yet present a remarkable contrast in some other circum- 
stances. One of these is the position of the prismatic 
columns into which they, as well as the connected 
zocks^ are divided ; and this, as being intimately associated 

3^ OiSOLOGhT. 

with their theoretical origin, is deserving of particnto 
notice. In the trap beds, the pillars are generally 
perpendicular, or at right angles to the sutBekm of 
the mass or planes of stratification, if we may use this 
expression. In the yeins, on the other hand, they are 
horizontal or perpendicular to the walls, giving rise to 
that remarkable appearance of having been artificially 
built up, which has induced the natives to name them - 
TroUahiaud or Giants^ Mountains. The colunms do 
not, however, extend continuously throughout the mass, 
bul^ like the cells in a honeycomb, form two series 
meeting in the middle, so that the heads of those <m the 
one side correspond to the depression between three of 
those opposite. This peculiar structure is best seen after 
the stone is somewhat weathered or decayed, when we 
generally find an empty space in the centre. The 
whole phenomena are easily explained by the conditions 
under which the rock has cooled, and Uie contraotioDS 
which would then take place. The loss of tempera- 
ture would evidently be greatest on the sides where 
the vein was in contact with the colder rock ; and as it 
consolidated, it would there separate into firagments, 
gradually extending into the interior in a direction per- 
pendicular to the walls. The same rapid cooling of the 
exterior has produced that black vitreous coating which 
is found on the sides of the veins. It is from three* 
fourths to one inch thick, and is of a glossy brittle tex- 
ture, gradually changing into a bluish-black basalt, and 
then into the crystalline greenstone of the centre.* 

The manner in which the rents or fissures now oo- 
cupied by these veins seem to have been produced is also 

* We may here refer to the Kluclcer or Bell Mountain, as it is 
called, from the ringing sound of the stone, for a ottrioas instanoe 
of the different positions of these columns. This hill, which 
properly belongs to the tracyhte formation, is situated near the 
foot of the Sneefield Jokul, and consists of countless piDars (^ 
myish stone^ full of numerous round cavities. On the top of 
the mountain the columns are horizontal, at the bottom perfectly 
perpendicular, and in the middle inclined ; whilst many, especially 
of tnose near the summit and centre, are bent so as to form a s^- 
ment of a circle. — 01al!Ben,,th. i. p. 166. 

exiremelj interMting. No change hai been oecotioned 
on the relative lerel of the diiirapted portion«y whioh 
still remain at the fame elevation on both »idef . From 
thi« it would appear that the leparation of the rockn hoi 
been effected, not as is generally the case in other for- 
mations, by a vertical motion, bat by the irides having 
been as it were pushed asunder in a hori;sontal direction* 
However difficult it may be to fbrm an ideaof the man- 
ner in ^Ich such a movement could be produced, some 
other appearances render its occurrence more than pro- 
bable* €ksologists ore now familiar with the Mction** 
aur&ces of veins, produced by the violent rubbing 
together of the sides during their formation* In 
general these are marked by vertical lines or furrows 
corresponding to the direction of the motion ; but in 
very many of tlie trap veins in Iceland they arc hori- 
zontal, following the line of stratification, and leading us 
to conclude that this was also the character of the 
oscillations* These appearances are too distinct, too 
strongly marked, and of too frequent occurrence, to be 
denied or explained away. They are found not only 
on tlie walls of the veins, but also on their sides, where, 
as often happens, they project beyond the horizontal 
beds. However improbable it may seem, we are never- 
theless compelled to admit, that the whole solid structurH 
of the island has undergone numerous and violent hori- 
zontal oscillations** 

. The essential constituents of these trap rocks are only 
three^— ^lipar, augite, and magnetic or titaniferous 
iron, substances which also form thoie of the modem 
Tolomie rocks. They however enter into very numerous 
combinations, and in the whole series of strata no two 
will be found exactly alike* They are more or less 
clearly distinguished, not only by the different propor- 
tion of these minerals, but also by the rfze of the grainy 
the fracture, and the porphyritic or other kinds of struc- 
ture* To these must be added the amygdaloidal concre- 
tions, and the zeolitic crystals, which do not less strongly 

* Kniff von Niddt, Ktrit. Areh, vol rii. pp. 481, 486, 489, 6U- 
619. OufMD, tb. i. p. Sti. HmderioB, vol. U. p, 6* 


mark the separate beds. To ennmerate the various 
changes these undergo even in one mountain would form 
a work of great extent ; we shall therefore only consider 
the larger and more remarkable divisions. The differ- 
ence in the produce of successive eruptions gives us 
reason to expect a more extensive and complete change 
in the parts of the series farther removed from each 
other. According to the observations of Krug von 
Nidda, the upper and imder portions are distinctly sepa- 
rated by several very characteristic peculiarities, some 
of which we shall now notice. 

The under and older portion of this formation has a 
greater similarity to basalt and the more crystalline 
traps than the upper and newer. Its characteristic 
rock is a fine-grained highly crystalline dolerite dr green- 
stone of a dark black and somewhat greenish colour. 
Augite is the prevailing mineral, excluding in a greater 
or less degree the felspar, commonly the Labrador, and 
appears to the eye like small black shining plates (blat- 
chen), concealing the other constituents, and gives many 
of these dolerites the external appearance of some fine 
varieties of anthracite. The felspar, however, becomes 
visible on exposing the rock to muriatic acid, and the 
titan-iron may by means of a magnet be separated me- 
chanically from the pounded mass in small grains of a 
metallic lustre. True basalts, in which the minerals are 
so intimately blended that the whole appearsasone homo- 
geneous mass, are nowhere found in Iceland ; the augite, 
though never separating into large distinct crystals, 
always retaining sufficient magnitude to be seen by the 
naked eye, and giving the stone a granular structure. 
On rarer occasions the felspar has a greater share in the 
composition, and is more easily recognised, though stiU 
dark-coloured. Even then the rock is seldom coarse- 
grained, and those greenstones are most abundant in 
which the augite and felspar crystals are just so laige 
as to be visible to the eye, though their limits are not 
distinctly marked. These dolerites are sometimes por- 
phyritic, the felspar separating &om the fine-grained 
basis in perfect crystals generally about half an inch 


long ; but, as already mentioned, the augite is never so 
defined or distinguishable.* 

Connected witii these greenstones are numerous varie- 
ties of wackes or clay-stones. In these the three simple 
minerals cannot be separately recognised, the whole 
being united into a various-coloured earthy mass with 
a powdery firacture. The greater number are coloured 
brown by a mixture of iron oxide, resembling brown 
clay-ironstone ; many others are green from the decayed 
augite or green earth. These wackes are remai'kable for 
the numerous beautiful minerals of the zeolite and quartz 
families found enclosed in them, which also occur, though 
less frequently, in the dolerites.t 

Associated with this portion of the trap-rocks, and 
confined entirely to it, are some strata of undoubted 
Neptunian origin. On many points of the eastern coast, 
but particularly on the Rode and Beru Fiords, where 
these rocks have undergone the greatest elevation, an un- 
doubtedly aqueous deposite occurs, forming the basis 
on which the trap rests. It is plainly stratified, dividing 
into thin tables usually with a distinct slaty structure, 
and separated by cross fissures into regultor parallelo- 
grams. It has evidently been a stratified clay or loam, 
now converted by fire into a hard sonorous clay-stone ; 
and the strata, wherever they contained iron, have a 
dark red colour similar to burnt tiles, and alternating 
with others of a lighter hue (bright yellow, blue, or gray) 
have a singular appearance, almost like the variegated 
sandstone (keuper) and lias formations. The vast 
number of trap veins that have pierced this deposite have 
completely altered its appearance, and in many places 
converted it into a kind of porphyry, with crystals of 

* Mackenzie (p. 372) mentions basalt in the island of Vidoe and 
in some other places; but the difference between him and Krug von 
Nidda, whom we have followed above, is probably more verbal 
than real, the one excloding ;from the ba^ts all rocks in which the 
constituents can be discemM by the eye ; whilst the other includes 
those which possess the columnar or so called basaltic structure. 
Onnpare Menge's Joumej in Iceland. Phil. Jour. vol. ii. (1820) 
pp. 150, 167. Mackenzie also observed larger crystals of augite 
than his successor seems to have done. 

t Von Kidda, K. A. vol. vii. p. 401-494. 


Bne quartz and long needle-like fel^ar. I& other 
parts the stone contains round concretions, in the cen- 
tre of which are often drusy cavities with beautiful 
yellow quartz crystals, in which three alternating sides 
.have almost obliterated the remainder. Some portions 
that have been exposed to a veiy great degree of heat 
•are changed into a dark blue obsidian of a slaty texture. 
The strata are every where thrown into the greatest con- 
fusion, and present a remarkable contrast to the regular 
trap rocks above them. On the Home Fiord the stra- 
tification has been completely destroyed, and the whole 
converted into a mass of porphyry, still, however, per- 
fectly distinct from the trap, by numerous veins of 
which it is traversed. This very singular formation 
also occurs at Mule on the Lagerfliot, thus extendi]]^ 
completely under the whole trap of the eastern coast 
It is, however, unfortunately so altered by the igneous 
rocks superimposed on it as to furnish no data for deter- 
mining the geological age. 

EUgher up in the series we find other Neptunian beds, 
alternating with the trap, though still confined to the 
under division^ These are strata of clay, fine conglo- 
merates, and sandstones, with a large basis of day 
(thonbindemittel), and are mostly of a bright yellow 
colour, though sometimes, as near the Bern and Ham- 
mar Fiords, stained dark or blood red from the oxide 
of iron. They are dried and hardened by heat, though 
the intensity of it has never been so great as to melt 
them completely, and they stiU adhere to the tongue and 
imbibe moisture. They are plainly a mechanical de- 
posite from water, formed in the quiescent intervals of 
igneous activity. As already mentioned, they are priiv* 
cipally clay, with grains of sand, seldom larger than a 
pea, which, as far as can be determined, are fragments 
of the surrounding black dolerites. Sometimes three 
or four such strata appear enclosed in the greenstones 
and amygdaloids from twenty to thirty feet in thick- 
ness ; but they are not regular in their extent, either 
thinning out, and altogether disappearing, or diminishr 
ing to narrow threads (bestegen), and again increasing 


to their former magnitude. However numerous and 
large they may be, they never lose their subordinate 
jcharacter, but still remain inconsiderable compared with 
the great mass of trap, so that there is no reason to sup- 
pose them the remnants of former mountains, botweeli 
whose strata the latter have been injected.* 

These Neptunian layers often contain beds of the 
bituminous wood called surturbrand by the Icelanders. 
This curious mineral is found in small quantities on 
the eastern coast, chiefly near the Vapna Fiord, but in feat 
greater abundance onthe western, especially in the valleys 
of the Hvitaie, Thuers, and Nordure, and on the north 
in the mountain-passes of the Skaga and Oe Fiords. The 
most extensive deposites, however, are in the north- 
western peninsula, where the clay-beds, with the en- 
closed vegetable remains, preserve a remarkable con- 
stancy over a great space, being observed in almost every 
fiord and chasm of the proper depth. From the nearly 
horizontal position of the strata, the surturbrand is al- 
most at a uniform elevation above the sea ; but as this 
rarely exceeds a few hundred feet, it is often concealed 
beneath the heaps of rocky fragments which cover the 
bases of the mountains, and hence is mostly found in 
deep ravines and water-courses. In this peninsula 
there arc generally three layers of surturbrand, the 
highest 600, the second 160, and the lowest only a few 
feet above the sea-level. That in the middle, which is 
from three to four feet thick, and composed of an equal 
number of parallel beds, is the best, the other two being 
thinner, more irregular, and of a worse quah'ty. In the 
Laksbiei^e, however, there are four beds from two to 
four feet in thickness, the two lower furnishing the best 

There are two principal varieties of this bituminous 
timber. The one is pale-brown, very like fresh unaltered 
wood, and is so well preserved as, in many instances, to 
be cut by the natives into tables, dishes, and ornamental 
articles. The other is black and shining like pitch coal, 

" Von Nidda, K. A. Vol. vii. pp. 424, 483, 494-496, 521.52& • 

352 0E0L067* 

and generally retains the woody stractnie. Both vari- 
eties may he found united in the same fragment, and are 
sometimes converted into an earthy friahle suhstance. 
The snrtorhrand is nsnally associated with heds of slate- 
clay, hlack^ dark-gray, or most commonly ash-gray in 
colour. In some yellow clays found with it at Tiomas 
In North Iceland, fragments, the size of swan eggs, of 
a hard ferruginous sandstone, occur. At Bardestrand 
the gray-coloured slate-clay contains very many im- 
pressions of leaves, exhihitmg in a most heautiful man- 
ner all their veins, ribs, and fibres. Some pieces of the 
slate are almost formed of them alone, and when sepa- 
rated from each other, they are not thicker than a 
sheet of writing paper. It is curious that the under 
side is black, and the upper of an ash-white, exactly, it 
has been remarked, as happens to a leaf that lies long on 
wet ground. They are also all placed parallel with 
the shore, and, according to Olafsen, closely resemble 
those of the willow, birch, and oak, some of the latter 
being as large as a man's hand. The principal speci- 
mens found by Henderson were of the common poplar 
{Populua tremula)y whilst others were referred by Home- 
mann to the tacamahac poplar (P. bal8amifera)y a native 
both of Siberia and North America. Below the second 
bed of surturbrand, where these leaves occur, there is, 
according to Ola&en, a stratum of vegetable clay. They 
are found only in a few places, most of tiie wood 
appearing like large trunks of trees, on which marks of 
branches five or six inches in diameter are found. The 
clay, often not above a few inches thick, interposed be- 
tween it and the trap-rocks, has yet preserved the wood 
from being charred by the fiery mass, though the inmiense 
weight has compressed trees a foot in diameter into 
thin flat plates. 

Many points regarding this formation are still ex' 
tremely problematical. Some consider it as belonging 
to the common carboniferous system, others, as Garlieb, 
refer it to the brown coal, whilst Von Nidda thinks 
that it agrees with neither of these, which are regarded 
as coast-formations. Most writers concur in deriving 


the materials from the drift-wood, the trees being in 
general deprived of their branches and otherwise wasted, 
like those cast on the shore in our own times. The 
only difficulty in this supposition is the occurrence of 
leaves in such a state of preservation as will not permit 
US to suppose them to have been long exposed to the 
action of the sea- water. At the present day, however, 
trees are often thrown on the coast with all their roots, 
and others arrive enclosed in the drift-ice. In this way 
the most delicate leaves might be conveyed an inde- 
finite distance, without undergoing any change after 
they were, so to speak, embalmed in the ice, and we 
may thus perhaps account for their occurrence in some 
very rare cases.^ 

Notwithstanding the scarcity of fuel in Iceland, the 
inhabitants make but little use of the surturbrand, 
from the dif&culty of digging it and the small dimen- 
sions of the beds. In no place are any regular mines of 
it found, and they only employ it where the steepness 
of the mountains, or the small streams, by removing the 
superior strata, expose a new layer every year. In 
these spots they collect the scattered fragments, or dig 
out the more accessible portions, and use it for smith- 
work after charring it in little pits covered with earth.f 

The upper division of the trap is distinguished by the 
prevalence of the common and glassy felspar, and the 
diminution of the augite. Magnetic iron is equally 
libundant as in the lower portion, giving the stone a 

* Gbppeit (Bemerkungen iiber die fossile Flora Schlesiens, 
Karst. Arch. vol. ix. p. 586) states that the fossil flora of the 
Quadersandstein (Keuper, &c.) is very different from that of 
the coal- formation, and probably of a later and perfectly dis- 
tinct epoch. Instead of tne stiffmarias and gigantic reeds there 
are only sea-plants or fuci, mixed with palms, and leaves very like 
those of our willow, poplar, and maple, though different when 
closely inspected (unsern Weiden, Pappeln, Ahom ahnlichen, 
aber bei naberer Untersuchung verscheidenen Blattern). If these 
were the same with the remains found in Iceland, it would go far 
to fix the age of these trap rocks. The inferior ISeptunian strata 
also resembled the same deposites. 

t 01afsen*s Reise, theil i. pp. 81, 219-222, 272 ; thcil ii. p. 26- 
28. Henderson, vol. ii. pp. 11, 80, 114-121. 125. Von Nidda, 
K. A. vol. vii. p. 496-502. 


higher specific giavity than is oommon in felspathons 
locksy and the small iron-black points appear moie 
distinctly on its sur&ce than in the dark doleiites. 
There occur numerous fine-grained mixtures of lel^ar 
and magnetic iron of a light-gray colour and weak ^hn- 
mering aspect. The augite only gires to the mass a light 
green tint, and is not yisible in starry concretions or 
distinct crystalline plates^ except near tbe boundaries of 
the lower greenstone series. These rocks^ as well as the 
upper ones of the former divisiony are generally por- 
phyriticy and have large crystals of glassy fd^ar sepa- 
rating from the mass. Amygdaloids are rare, whilst 
the wackes and clay-stones, w^ their beantifdl zecdites 
and quartz, yanish with the dolerites. The only asso- 
ciated mineral is the chabasite/filling rents and fissures 
in the rock rather than vesicular cavities. 

In this portion of the trap series we find the transi- 
tion to the trachytes. Its disposition in horizontal 
parallel beds, and its formation from veins, connect it 
with the former portion, and show that it was produced 
under similar conditions ; but its mineralogical composi- 
tion and porphyritic structure so closely resemble 
that of the trachyte that it is almost impossible to dis- 
tinguish them. The transition from the one to the 
other is completed by numerous intervening stepe^ and 
there are many districts where it is impossible to tell to 
which formation they belong. Nature seems to have 
passed from the one class to the other, not by a sudden 
start, but by slow degrees, and a graducd yet undeviating 

Though at first sight these rocks might seem to 
justify the opinion once prevalent of the Neptunian 
origin of the floetz trap, — ^their stratification being 
more brought out, and on a larger scale, than the veins 
or canals by which the fluid matter escaped from the 
interior of the earth, — ^yet a closer inspection soon dis- 
pels the illusion. Their highly crystalline character,— 
their close connexion with the veins, — ^their resemblance 

* Krug Ton Nidda, K. A. toI. fiL p. 5Q2-50ft. 


to the volcanic products around, — and the analogy of 
other lands compel us to refer them to an igneous source. 
The progress of geological opinion has now united all 
writers in this theory as to their orlgiB, and it only re- 
mains to point out the cause of some of their peculiar 
appearances. Though agreeing nearly m chemical com- 
position with the trap rocks, the lavas which flow in 
the open air have a more rugged and porous aspect, 
are more generally disposed in currents of which the 
length greatly exceeds the hreadth, and seldomer con- 
tain calcspar, zeolite, or other minerals. These differ- 
ences must he owing to the peculiar conditions under 
which they were formed, and trap rocks are now 
generally regarded as the product of submarine vol- 
canoes. The vast pressure of the superincumbent 
ooean would not only contribute to spread out the lava 
into a thin sheet, but, by preventing the escape of the 
enclosed vapours, preserve its fluidity for a longer 
time, and thus contribute to the perfect horizontality of 
the beds. It would also promote the formation of the 
amygdaloidal minerals, by preventing the escape of 
their gaseous constituents, whilst others might be pro- 
duced by the substances contained in the sea-water 
uniting with the olex of the melted mass. The lava 
flowing along the bottom of the ocean would naturally 
assume the form of the trap rocks of Iceland, and 
like them, be surrounded by precipitous cliffs, and in- 
tersected by deep flssure-like chains. In the periods 
of repose, again, the sea would accumulate Neptunian 
strata on the suiface of the beds^ the materials proceed- 
ing either from the destruction of the inferior rocks, 
the debris of already existing lands, or the loose matter 
thrown out by the volcano ; or substances from all 
these sources might be imited, as seems to have been 
the case in Iceland. The formation of this series of 
rocks might go on for a long period, during which the 
gradoalfilling up of the ocean, or the altering of the matter 
contained in the volcanic foci, would occasion changes 
in the resulting rocks similar to those now described 
in Iceland. 


This mode of formation exploiiis a singular pheno-^ 
menon in the trap rocks, especially those of the momi- 
tains Esfflan and Akkrefell, first noticed by Mackenzie 
daring his yisit to that island. The under surface of 
many of the strata is covered with a red, porous, slaggy 
crust, one or two inches thick, and with no remains 
of crystallization. He explaiined this &ci by supposing 
that the lava poured out on the cold moist bottom of the 
sea was quicldy cooled, whilst the steam thus formed, 
finding no way to escape, produced the cavities in the 
porous mass above. No such appearances are seen on 
the upper surface, whence the vapours escaped into the 
superior fluid without affecting the rock.* 

The trachytic fi)rmation is far less known than the 
locks we have now described. Research in the inte- 
rior is almost precluded by the vast snowy mountains^ 
the heaps of lava, scorifle, and volcanic adies, and the 
dreary inhospitable wilderness where there is no human 
dwelling to shelter the traveller, no spring to quench 
his burning thirst, no blade of grass to refresh the eye, 
wearied with the savage monotony of the scene. The 
trachyte rocks are composed of pure compact felspar, in 
which small crystals of the same mineral occur, giving 
it the coarse texture and harsh roughness from which 
it derives its name. It varies much in appearance and 
composition, sometimes approaching to the dolerites, at 
other times, to the modem volcanic rocks, so that it is 
impossible strictly to define its limits on either hand. 
It is often converted into pumice, which owes its light, 
porous, and often thread-like fabric to the escape of the 
included vapours. The cavernous lava of Sir Geoigo 
Mackenzie seems to belong to this formation, difiering 
in character from the modem rock of that name. Ac- 
cording to his account, it does not appear to have flowed, 
but has been heaved up into huge blisters from two or 
three feet to forty or fifty in diameter, and either round 
or stretching into long winding caverns. This is caused by 
the more imperfect fluidity of the trachyte, which, for 

• Mackenzie, p, 377, &c. Von Nidda, p. 530. 


the same reason, seldom spreads over large surfaces, but 
is disposed in thick masses or hummocks. It seems 
also to have issued from wider rents than the largest even 
of the trap veins, and in this way also to have been more 
accumulated around its source. 

We have already mentioned the geographical dis- 
tribution of this formation in a broad ban^ across the 
island ; an arrangement which is very common in trar 
chyte districts, and agrees well with the other characters 
of the rock and the huge veins or fissures it occupies. 
The jokul chains on its sides exhibit all its peculiar 
rities, both in external form and internal relations. The 
soft viscid mass of the trachyte has risen up like domes 
over the expansive force below. The mountains, accord- 
ingly, have a soft rounded form, with long flat summits 
and gently sloping sides. The huge masses of volcanic 
conglomerates and tuffs give them a rough shattered 
appearance, perpendicular or overhanging precipices 
alternating with deep ravines ; but when some miles 
distant their beauty and regularity astonish the spectator. 
The name of the Skialdbreidor Broadshield, denominated 
from its resemblance to that old weapon of defence, 
well marks their peculiar form. 

In the Nordurse, and some other adjoining valleys on 
the western coast, the igneous sources seem to be 
situated at no great distance from the sur£Eice. Hot 
springs and volcanic cones are very common, leading us 
to expect the appearance of the trachyte. This rock is 
found in the Baula mountain* about 8000 feet high, and 
recognised even from a great distance by its beautiful 
conical shape, and dazzling white colour towering above 
the surrounding hills of dark trap. Its singular appear- 
ance has attracted the notice of all travellers, and made 
Olafsen conclude that it must have been produced by 
the deposition of the hot springs. This idea, so charac- 
teristic of the country, is found to be incorrect, the 
stone being a trachyte, with a light yellow felspar basis 
and white transparent needles of the same mineral. 

* A view of tbii remarkable eminence is given in the plate. 


Professor Forchhammar found that it contained sul- 
phuric add, and thereby approaches to alum-stone. 
The sides rise at an angle of nearly 40% and for half 
the height areformed of horizontal strataof trap, on which 
is superimposed the trachytic cone. This last is com- 
posed of remarkably beautiful columns^ of various dimen- 
sionsy but with no regularity in their position. The 
foot of the hill is covered widi an innumerable multi- 
tude of such pillars, which have been detached from 
the summit and rolled down the steep declivities. 

The trachyte, occupying the centre of the country, is 
regarded as a later formation than the trap, and has 
given rise to the following theory as to the formation of 
the island. The last of the former series began, as we 
saw, to approach to this in character, and, at the same 
time, the veins by which it originally found vent to the 
surfjEuse became closed up. The confined fluid lava thus 
accumulated in immense profusion, till the rigid cover- 
ing of trap, no longer able to resist its energy, burst 
asunder into a frightful chasm, which was immediately 
filled by the trachyte. The outlet, however, not 
being sufficient^ the trap was forced up along with 
the rising mass, which, still continuing to ascend on the 
sides, formed the majestic chains of the jokuls. The 
lava contmcting, on becoming cold, sunk down and 
thus gave the trap strata their slight inclination towards 
the interior. The latter being, at the same time, more 
elevated in the middle, at least on the eastern coast be- 
tween the Rode and Beru Fiords, has separated into an 
innumerable number of parallel fiords and valleys, all 
running perpendicular to the central trachyte. This 
uniformity, in the direction of the fiords and valleys, 
was long observed before its explanation was found in 
the geological structure of the island.* 

* Mackenzie, p. 389, &c. Olafsen, th. i. pp. 2, 45, 74, &c 
Von Nidda, K. A. vol. vii. pp. 425, 434, 437, 441, 455, &c. The 
theory, of which we have siven a sketch above, is that of the 
last author, and is supported by many ingenious arguments and 
illustrations. It is, however, we think liable to some objections, 
and the formation of the jokuls may be better explained by a seriei 


Besides these older and general formationB there are 
some others more partial and recent, produced by the 
igneous and aqueous agents at present existing. Of 
these the former are generally connected witibi the 
trachyte rocks, of which they are in some degree a 
continuation, as the latter were of the trap. The most 
extensiye of these volcanic productions is lava, found in 
many parts of the land in a great variety of form and 
colour. Proceeding from trachy tic rocks it is of a similar 
nature, consisting of a felspar basis, with crystals of 
glassy felspar, and sometimes contains olivin, but never 
augitc. It generally forms long currents, though some- 
times spreading out into wide beds of various depths^ 
those around Hekla being in many instances 70 feet^ 
whilst that from the Skaptafcll was in several places 
100, and in some not less than 600 or 600 feet thick. 
It is seldom possible to trace tlie currents to their 
source in the crater, as the eruptions generally terminate 
by throwing out a vast quantity of red slags and other 
fragmentary matter which cover the sides of the cone. 
Hence it is only where these have fallen in less profu- 
sion, or have been subsequently removed by the rivers, 
that the lava is first seen. Even during the progress of 
the eruption these loose substances, together with white 
or brown pumice and volcanic ashes, are often ejected, 
and cover vast tracts of land. Thus, in the case of the 
Katlcgia in 1755, the sand in the plains was one or two 
feet thick, and in some valleys near the mountain even 
four or six feet. The melancholy appearance of these 
districts has occasioned them to be called by the natives 
Hraun or Hroin, a word meaning ruin or annihilation. 

The volcanic mountains in Iceland are arranged in 
a linear direction, running north-east and south-west, 
parallel to the trachyte band, and also to the opposite 
coast of Greenland. Most of the jokuls are of this class, 
though all of them have not been in eruption since the 

of eraptions from two parallel rents, the existence of which is 
shown by the volcanic phenomena we are about to notice. The 
theory is, however, valuable, as presenting a clear and striking 
view of some of the most remarkable phenomena in the island. 

3lS0 GBOLOGir. 

island was inhabited. Of this kind are tiie Smorfield and 
Sniofell, on the eastern coast, whose form attests their 
volcanic origin. The joknls beliind the trap hills and 
promontories on the same coast are too little known to 
permit us to point out any active vents there, though it 
seems probable that they exist. On the southern coast 
they are very numerous. Orsfa, the highest moun- 
tain in the island, has been known as such from the 
earliest times ; but its devastations have always been 
confined to ashes and pumice, with vast debacles of 
water, no lava having ever issued. More in the Ime 
are the Skaptar and Sida Jdkuls, followed by the Katle- 
gia, and ending on the mamland in the splendid bell- 
shaped dome of the Eyafialla. Little or no lava seen» 
to have been given out by the three volcanoes lait 
named ; but this mineral is again found in the larger 
of the Westmanna Islands, together with a cone of 
eruption. This group may therefore be regarded as a 
continuation of that system. The Tindfiall and Hekli, 
lying more in the interior of the island, seem to fonn 
a branch of this chain, the line joining their summits 
meeting the former almost at right angles in the Eya- 
fialla Jokul. 

The other side of the trachyte valley has also its 
volcanic chain, parallel to that now described. Most 
of its summits are placed in a line running &om Reiki- 
anes to Langanes, on the north-east of the island, which 
may thus be regarded as its continuation. The first 
active sources, however, are Krabla, the Myvatn and 
Leirhnukr, connected with which are Herdubreid and 
the Trolladynger, which have contributed to form the 
Odaada-hraun or Horrid Lava in that district. Next 
follows the Hofs Jokul, at the foot of which we find 
many craters and lava tracts, particularly the Lamba- 
hraun. The chain is continued in the Bald and Geit- 
land's Jokuls, in the lava from the latter of which the 
cave of Surtshellir is placed, and ends in the Sldaldbreid. 
No lava has flowed, since the island was inhabited, from 
any of these jokuls, but numerous beds of it lodged on 
their sides and base show that this state of quiescence 

aBOtoaY. 301 

has hcen frequently interrupted At & farmor poriod. 
South of the Thingvalla Vata ^e volcanic dcpoaitei again 
rise into a iteep ru^ed diain, about 2C00 feet high, which, 
traveniuj^ tho whole of Guldbringe Sysael, code near 
Cape Reikiancs. Tlie whole of thij province is one 
wild, waste lava field, aptly characterized aa "a con- 
geuled pandemonium." i'ixcd moaaea of trachyte rarclj' 
(H^ur in it ; but volcanic tufle and conglomerates, hcapad 
upon each other in inextricable confusion, innumer^e 
concBof eruption, and more extensive lava-currents than 
arc to be fuund in any other part of the island, cover 
ita eur&cc. In this cage oa in the former system the 
line is continued undor the ocean to tho Geirfugla Skiacr, 
and numerous eruptions have occurred etill tarther out 
at Bca. The promontory of Snccfield Sysacl also bean 
inarlcH of rccont volcanic energy, and is united by the 
cnnea in tho valley of the Noidur with the northern 
clukin, of which it thus forms a subsidiary branch in the 
same manner as Ilckla does of the southern.* 

3 NIddi, K. 1 

i. p. 457-471. 

ch, Po(( 

(cc. MBckmiis. pp. MS-ibi, 389. Gliemuin, pp. BT, 104, !«:. 
Some laore populir detiili regarding th« lalcinusi nill be found 
in ths Srit ctiaptar of Ihii work. 

W« luljoin ■ lilt of tho leeUodie "olcuion, ttlth ths AtXst of 

rufiJiikul, 13G2, 17S0, 17ST, 
1 785. 

nippBrell'i Jiiliul, 1332, 1772. 
Heiniberg'i Jukul, 13tl2, 
Tnlluljngfr, IISI, 1188, 1340, 

Iliad, 1473, 1510. 
Herdubreid, 1^40, IGIO. 1717. 
Knhim *nd Leirbnukr, 17W- 


HcH«. 10O4, 102!), 








1683,1728, 17W 

OuldbriPH Htisol, 


2. [«3l. 



_IB(B,ni7, .. 

Lhgla or Mjrrdtl) Jiikul, S04, 
mi, 1737, 175H. 18S3. 
RkaptirJokDl, naa. 
Sid* Jukul, in tenth aentny. 

knovn in th 


Fiord, 1345. 

iibimrinr, Rnkiinai, 1311, 

iBrn Juknl, 1736, 1737, 1326, 1238, 1240, 12-, 1340, 

1422, 1583, 1JB3, 1831. 

Hsndrnon itttM ibtt BitmarfiB)! and Hltahol wen in eruption 

during lbs lait cent UTf. Tba lutbariianarsthittbaliit navpr»- 


The cause of these terrible phenomena does not come 
within the scope of this work, yet we may state that the 
facts recorded respecting those in Iceland seem to agree 
better with the supposition of their bdng the efiect of 
partial yet similar causes, such as the oxidation of the 
metallic bases in vast subterranean laboratories, than 
with that of their proceeding from the general fusion 
of the earth's nucleus. Their eruptions are all partial, 
disconnected, and succeeding each other at irregular 
interralB. The most powerM and active are, at tho 
same time, with a few exceptions^ near the coast or 
large bodies of fresh water. Neither do they show any 
marks of decreasing energy, for some of the last equal or 
even surpass the most remarkable in former ages. Con- 
nected with this subject we may mention Ola&en's 
experiments on the internal heat in the vicinity of the 
hot springs of Laugames and Krisuvik. Though the 
greatest depth was only thirty-two feet, in which he 
pierced through eighteen diflPerent strata, yet the tempe- 
rature was found to increase and decrease several times. 
It was greatest in a bed of bluish-gray earth about 
twenty feet down, and the natives told him that in 
digging turf in the mosses twenty-eight feet deep, they 
find three or four beds of blue and reddish-yellow clays 
which have a sensible warmth.* 

Aqueous agents are also forming considerable deposites 
at the present day. The calcareous and siliceous sinter 
from the hot springs is often very considerable, the con- 
cretionary sedhnent of the latter in the vicinity of the 

sented is far from being complete. It is, however, more so than any 
previous one which he has seen ; that given by Mackenzie, and 
copied in most of our recent English works on geology, only con- 
taining the names of nine volcanoes, with forty-two eruptions, of 
which twenty-two were from Hekla ; whilst in that above there 
are nineteen vents and seventy-seven eruptions. These have occurred 
in about ten centuries, or, on an average, one in thirteen years. 
The most violent paroxysms seem to have occurred in 1340, 13^, 
1725-1730, and 1754-1755. To complete this view of internal ac- 
tivity, we may add, that the following years were distinguished by 
violent earthquakes: 1181, 1182, 1211, 1260, 1261, 1^, 1300, 
1311, 1313, 1339, 1370, 1390, 1391. 1.552, 1564, 1578, 1597, 1614, 
1633, 1657. 1661, 1706, 1755, 1784, 1789, 1808, 1815, 1825. 
* Olafsen's Reise, th. ii. p. 164-169. 


Geysers forming a mass, said by M. Robert, to be not 
less than four leagues long. The debacles of water, too, 
issuing from the volcanoes, frequently fill the vsdleys 
with vast heaps of debris swept down from the mountains. 
The rapid rivers, especially those from the jokuls, con- 
stantly coloured by the matter they contain, must also, 
in a country liable to so many changes, convey immense 
quantities of various substances to the sea. The snow, 
moreover, dissolved by the internal heat, frequently 
elevates these streams to an extraordinaiy height, as 
in 1763, when the Diupaa, from the Sida Jokul, rose 
200 feet above its usual level, and covered the whole 
district with sand, stones, and fragments of ice. Many 
of the fiords are by these means sensibly diminishing 
in depth, so that the harbours on their extremities are 
no longer accessible from the sea ; an effect which is no 
doubt partly owing to the rise of the land, of which we 
have many decided proofs. Thus, on the banks of the 
Leira and Laxa Fiords in West Iceland, more than a 
mile from the shore, are large deposites, ten feet thick, 
of blue loam mixed with sand, and containing, at a depth 
of seven feet from the surface, a bed of shells, of which 
the most numerous are the Pecten auritus, and a species 
of Venus. A raised beach is seen in Sneefield Syssel, 
half a mile from the sea, with houses and fields be- 
tween, and the channels separating many of the islands 
are shallower than formerly. Similar changes are 
visible in the West fiords, where the water has left beau- 
tiful alluvial plains, and seems to have retreated about 
a mile. In Patrix Fiord fishes, said to be the Clupea 
sprattus, and Salmo Arctums, are found embedded in an 
indurated blue mud or marl, and the process is con- 
sidered still going on. Near Husevik, in a small hill 
about 160 feet high, many shells, some of them par- 
tially crystallized, occur. Ten or twelve species are 
enumerated, amongst others cardis, pectines, tellins^ 
neritae, of unusual size, and several spiral univalves, 
one of which is never found in any other part of the 
island. Most of the shells contain a black clayey sand- 
stone, but some are empty, and covered on the inside 


with Ennall white six-sided crystals. Oihen aie £Ued 
partly with sandstone, partly with crystals of consider- 
able size ; and others are quite full of brown or yel- 
lowish-red cubical crystals. These crystallized shells 
are only found in one part of the hill, those in the 
remainder retaining their usual character, so that they 
are observed here in yarious stages of progress towards 
fossllization. The elevation of these beds is probably due 
to the earthquakes which so often shake the foundations 
of the island, and extend even to the opposite coast of 
Greenland. It is remarkable that in this latter country 
the land, at least in the south, seems to be sinking, though 
the fossil fishes and shells discovered in the alluvial de- 
posites on the coast seem to prove that fcuiher north it 
has had an opposite motion at no v^ry distant date.* 

Povelsen and Menge state, that blocks of granite are 
not unfrequently found on the most elevated spots in 
Iceland ; and Brongniart considers this fact, if well 
ascertained, as forming one of the most powerful ar- 
guments in favour of the singular theory of De Lac, 
who conceived the numerous boulders of this and other 
rocks scattered over various countries, as having been 
ejected from the interior of the earth by the explosion 
of expansible fluids compressed by the subsidence of the 
strata. It is, however, most probable that these masses 
are some variety of tne trap, and even, if they were 
granite, their presence would be more easily accounted 
for by other means, especially as we have seen rea- 
son to conclude that the former rocks were originally 
formed at the bottom of the ocean. The teeth and skuU 

of an elephant are also reported to have been found in 

— - 

♦ Olafsen, th. i. pp. 67, 82, 160, 192, 326, &c. ; th. ii. p. 25, &c 
Henderson, vol. ii. p. 113. Gliemann, p. 86. Lyell's Qeology (Ed. 
1837), yoL ii. pp. 58, 302, 340. That the earthquakes raise large 
portions of the coast is seen from the effects of those in Myrdd* 
in 1755, yihen a tract more than two miles wide, and extending 
fourteen miles into the sea, was raised in three ridges from 120 to 
240 feet high. The natives also say that the Someima rose and 
fell several times during the same eruption, and at it» close was 
nearly twice its former neight. Indeed, the whole southern coast 
seems rising, the sea having at the Skeidarau- sands retired some 
miles Danish (each 4^ English). 01. th. ii. pp. 27, 86. 


this country, probably in some of those recent formations 
lately described. A solitary fact of this nature is of 
little importance, as the teeth might be brought to the 
island, either by some pilgrim returning from the east, 
or be floated thither amidst the drift-ice and wood that 
every year arrive there fix)m the north of Asia, where 
such remains are very common at the mouths of all the 
great rivers. The figure of this animal, said to be carved 
on many Runic monuments, rather proves the Asiatic 
origin of the people, than that the elephant ever co- 
existed with men in Northern Europe.* 

The vast masses of ice covering the summits of the 
mountains, and descending their sides till checked by 
the increased temperature of the lower regions, forces 
on our notice some very curious considerations regarding 
the changes that might be produced on the cl^ate of 
the island, even by a small elevation of the land. A 
rise of 150 feet, which we have seen to have taken place 
in at least one of the cases mentioned above, would bring 
many hills, now free, within the limit of perpetual snow. 
It would also increase the size of the glaciers at present 
existing, to an extent proportional to the slope of the 
ground on which they aresituated. But the augmentation 
of these natural reservoirs of cold would lower the mean 
temperature of the island, and this would again, in its 
turn, add to their extent. By tfiis reiterated influence, 
the climate might be much deteriorated, and many plants 
and animals destroyed. The speculation, however inter- 
esting, cannot be pursued, though by means of it we 
might perhaps account for the observed enlargement of 
the jokuls both in Iceland and Greenland. 

The intensity of heat which these difierent formations 
prove to have existed at some former time in the rocks 
of this island, would lead us to expect many rare and 
beautiful minerals, which, however, is by no means the 
case. In the under division of the trap, bronzite is very 
common, mixed as a constituent part throughout the 
whole stone. On the other hand, olvine, hornblende, 

* Brongniart, Tableau des Terrains (Paris 1829)) p. 83. Cuvier 
sor les filephans fossiles. Anuales de Museom, torn. viii. pp. 43, 44. 


and mica are entirely wanting, and iron pyrites is only 
xarely seen in minute grains scattered through the mass. 
Opal in small stars is found in the felspathous rocks cf 
the upper division ; and in the amygdidoidal cavities <^ 
the under division, there are many very beautiful mine- 
rals of the quartz and zeolite fsiinilies. These are ge- 
nerally widely separated from each other, and only on 
rare occasions found in the same cavities where the 
quartz fiUs the outside, accompanied with a few zeolite 
crystals in the interior. These substances are also most 
frequent in the under portion of the traps^ though vesi- 
cular cavities are far from imcommon in the upper di- 
vision, and thus seem in some degree connected with 
the presence of the augite and Labrador felspar. 

Calcedony, quartz, and agate are generally observed in 
large irregular holes or fissures in a dark brown ferrngm- 
ous wacke. The first of these seems to have been in a 
gelatinous state when introduced; and, when most fluid, 
to. have spread itself in layers over the bottom of the 
cavity. Many are filled with alternate lines of calce- 
dony and cacholong, the former always becoming thinner 
as it approaches the top ; the uppermost layer being of 
the latter substance, which seems to be only the lighter 
portion of the former. At other times the calcedony 
has run down the walls of the cavity, or descended id 
stalactitic drops from its roof. These are either long and 
thin like grapes, or form an uneven plain covered with 
small spherical elevations. In these cases cacholong is 
altogether wanting, and the inside of the calcedony is 
usually covered with small needle-like crystals of 
amethyst, which is never found between two layers. 

These quartz minerals only occur in the larger cavities, 
the smaller being filled with zeolite, particularly with 
small rhombohedrons of chabasite. This mineral is re- 
markably abundant in the trap of Iceland,, especially in 
the vesicular cavities of the augitic rocks. It also occurs 
on the waUs of fissures, and whole strata seem as if pene- 
trated by it, yet the pieces are seldom larger than a pea. 
Next in abundance is the mesotype, sometimes on the 
sides of the hollows in the fresh dolerite, but oftener and 


in greater beauty in a kind of soft crumbling wacke, 
from which, with a little care, perfectly crystallized 
needles some inches long, and all radiatLag &om one 
point, may be separated. This clay, mostly coloured 
by green earth, is the principal bed of the finest zeo- 
lites ; stilbite, epistilbite, and heulandite are found there, 
but less frequently in cavities than in masses the size 
of a man's head, coyered with the soft clay. Sometimes 
this last substajice appears as if sown with remarka- 
bly beautiful crystab of heulandite, eyeiy surface of 
which possesses equal polish and splendour, so that it is 
impossible to point out the one which attached it to the 
rock. They are observed in greatest profusion on the 
eastern coast, near the Bern Fiord. 

Analcime is rare, and only found in the cavities of the 
black dolerite. It has the form of the leucite, and is 
about the size of a pin-head. Apophylite is still more 
rare, though some beautiful drusy cavities lined with it 
occur in the fine-grained dolerites at the Bern Fiord. 

The far-famed double refracting Iceland spar is not, 
as is often supposed, discovered in the vesicles of the trap 
rocks, in which calcareous spar is a great rarity, and 
never in pieces larger than a pea. It only occurs in one 
place, namely, a fissure on the northern bank of the Rode 
Fiord about a thousand feet above the sea. A small 
brook rushing down the rock brings with it numerous, 
fragments, which lie scattered at the bottom. Following 
its course, with some difficulty one at last arrives at the 
spot where the stream has wrought great devastation on 
that beautiful mineral. It is a cleft in a fine-grained 
augitic greenstone, two and a half to three feet wide and 
twenty to twenty-five long, completely filled with the 
pure calc spar, and thinning out on both sides. . No 
attempt has been made to examine the depth of the 
Tein. The water, flowing along its whole length, insi- 
nuates itself into the finest fissure, where, when frost 
arises, it cracks, and destroys the spar, so that now it 
is almost impossible to obtain a transparent piece of any 
size, and that only where it has been protected from the 


The calcareous spar neyer forms distinct concretions, 
the whole mass being pressed together like the separate 
parts of a coarse-grained primitiye limestone, and where 
any void spaces haye b^n subsequently formed their 
sur&ces are coyered with beautiful stilbite crystals. 
The origin of this mass is inyolyed in great obscurity, 
though it seems most probable that it is a fragment of 
some inferior stratum carried up into its present posi- 
tion by the trap rocks. The changes produced by igneous 
masses on many of the modem limestones show that thete 
is nothing impossible in this supposition; they being 
frequently conyerted both by iMu^tic yeins and laya 
into a granular crystalline mass. Its chief distinction 
is, that the indiyidual parts haye a far greater magni- 
tude and purity than is common in Ihnestone. This 
yiew is confirmed by its being found exactly at the 
place where those Neptunian rocks, similar to the 
keuper or yariegated marls, appear in the greatest abun- 
dance, rising 500 or 600 feet aboye the sea, so that the 
limestone is only a few hundred feet higher, whilst 
numerous trap yeins pierce these beds. The great ob- 
jection to the hypothesis of its being formed by infiltra- 
tion, besides the want of any calcareous strata aboye 
whence the materials might be deriyed, is, that no cayity 
occurs in the centre coyered with perfect crystals as 
might in that case haye been expected. 

Copper occurs in small quantities, particularly in the 
rocks between the Lagerfliot and the Borgar Fiord. The 
green carbonate of this metal, usually denominated ma- 
lachite, is said to be found in many places, in some of 
which the rock also contains fragments of coal. Iron is 
a yery common mineral, either combined with clays or 
as bog iron ore ; but neither of these is in sufficient quan- 
tity to be applied to any useful purpose. 

Obsidian, or, as it is called, the Icelandic agate, is ge- 
nerally connected with the yolcanic rocks, of which it 
seems to form a yariety, its glassy texture depending on 
the manner in which it has cooled. It is in this country 
almost opaque, the thin edges only exhibiting a brownish 
tiQge. It is foimd in many places, more especially in the 


monntain Ra&tmnnfiall, which takes its name from 
this miaeial. Many of the riyers from the interior also 
bring it down in fragments, so that it must be profusely 
scattered throughout the volcanic districts. Pitchstone 
sometimes imited with pearlstone is also not uncommon, 
forming veins in porphyry slate or greenstone.* 

The only mineral which forms an object of commerce 
is sulphur, a common production of all the volcanic vents. 
Two places only are, however, distinguished as namar 
or sulphur mines, — ^the one in the north of the island 
near Husavik and the Myvatn, the other in the south 
at Krisuvik in Guldbringe Syssel. The latter is 
situated in a valley at the foot of a hill of loose slaty 
tufiisL The bottom of the hollow is covered with gypseous 
earth, along with a red and blue clay mixed with iron 
pyrites. The former at one spring was found to be 
twelve feet thick, below which the fine blue clay, always 
becoming firmer and hotter, was pierced to the depth of 
fourteen feet. At another the strata were red clay one 
foot^ violet, yellow, and blue four feet, then ten feet blue 
mixed with pyrites, the heat always increasing so as to 
be almost at the boiling point near the bottom. Through 
this numerous thermal springs rise, the water of which 
is thickly mixed with the white, blue, or red clay, and 
in one the liquid, or rather the mud, is red, brown, 
and blue, sometimes together, sometimes alternately. 
Near these mud volcanoes, as they may be called, the 
siilphur is deposited either crystallized or compact in 
layers at most two or three inches thick, or in loose 
efflorescent beds three to six inches deep, covered with an 
acid earth containing gypsum and alum. Besides many 
small patches there are two large spots where the sul- 
phur is sublimed, the one 120 yards long by 20 broad, 
the other 160 by 40 yards. The mineral found here is 
the purest in the land, but is by no means so abundant 
as near Husavik in the north. 

In this vicinity there are several mines, of which the 
Thestareykie namar are the nearest the town. Here 

* Von Nidda, K. A. toI. Tii.p. 505-514. Gliemann, p. 71-89. 


is a hill about four miles long and one broad, covered 
with knobs and cones of a red, yellow, white, and blue 
colour, in which sulphur is found, though the natives 
have now ceased to work it. In these it occurs in two 
layers covered with a red day, the upper being veiy fine^ 
while the lower is only sulphur-sand. In some places 
it is dry, white, and dusty, in others it is converted into 
a white stone. The principal of the living mines, or those 
in which the production of sulphur is still going on, aie 
at Baarfells, where the mineral is situated under a bed 
of white clay striped with red or blue, the last being al- 
ways nearest it. This is one to two inches thick, the upper 
part being of a bright citron yellow, the under mixed 
with pale-coloured clay. Below^bedsof red,yellow, white^ 
and blue clay, the last mixed with iron pyrites, succeed, 
all of them very hot. The rocks here are similar to 
those at Krisuvik, only gypsum is more sparingly dis- 

About twenty-eight miles south-east from Husavik 
are the Krabla namar, and further west, near the My- 
vatn, the Hlidar or Reykialids namar. There are twelve 
boilingmud springs inthcneighbourhood, and the layer of 
sulphur, which is six inches thick, is the largest in Iceland. 
Twenty-four miles south from the last are the Fremio 
namar, on the fflde of a high rock, probably part of an old 
crater. The soil is the same with that at Krisuvik, and 
exhales much steam, which sometimes deposites lime- 
stone in the cracks. The mines are of various sizes, the 
largest being four hundred feet long by on6 hundredbroad, 
but all of them deposite great quantities of sulphur.* 

The Geology of the Faroe Islands presents almost 
an exact counterpart to that of the trap districts of Ice- 
land. The main distinction between them is founded 
in this peculiarity, that whilst the igneous agents which 
produced the earliest rocks of the former island, seem to 
have continued in uninterrupted activity till the present 

* Olafsen, th. ii. pp. 56-58, 154. Henderson, voL i. p. 165-170. 
Hooker, vol. i. p. 238-125. Mackenzie, pp. 113, 115. GUemann, 
p. 110 113. 


day, in the latter they have Apparently ceased to opcrat* 
from the period when the land rose above the ocean. 

The Faroe Island/i occupy somewhat of a trian^pilar 
space in the Northern Ocean, the broadest part being 
turned to the north. The principal direction of the land 
Is from south-east to north-west, as is seen in the shape 
of the islands and the position of the flc/rds; so that 
Myggenfcs may bo supposed to form a continuation of 
Huderoe, an opinion confirmed by the similar strata found 
In both of them. This consideration, supported by some 
other facts to be afterwards noticed, makes it probable 
that a portion of the group towards the south, correspond- 
ing to the north-eastern islands, has been destroyed since 
the period of their formation. There are only two prin- 
cipal rocks found, namely, various kinds of trap in beds, 
averaging IfH) feet in thickness, and alternating strata, 
one or two feet thick, of a mineral rery similar to clay- 
stone, named tuffa by Allan and Mackenzie. This is 
coloured red, yellow, brown, or green, by the oxide, 
oxiliydrate, or oxidulate of iron, and contains on somo 
occasions small rounde<l fVogments of basalt or greenstone* 
As in Iceland, the trap forms two divisions ; its most com- 
mon varieties being in the under part of the series green- 
stone and amygdaloid, and in the upper porphyry, 
which is sometimes slaty. All the kinds are more or 
less deeply tinged by the dark green ferruginous mineral 
usually blended with the mass. Small crystals, pro- 
bably of atigite, are found in the opaliferous porphyry 
near Eide, on Oesteroe. Felspar, either the common or 
glassy varieties, in very distinctly seen, though the latter 
is confined to the porphyritic rocks of the upper division. 
At the junction of the two series in Suderoe, which at 
Qualboe is nearly at the level of the sea, there occur two 
beds of pitchcoal, only separated by a layer of fire-clay. 
In this island they occupy a space of about twenty-two 
square miles, and it is probable that the coal found under 
similar circumstances on Myggenofs was formerly united 
with it. This substance has a glassy appearance, and is 
crossed in the direction of the stratification with delicate 
parallel lines* It is accompanied with sbto-clayi hardened 


clay, wacke, and spaeroaiderite, with crystals of sparry 
iron (spatheisen) and quartz. Indistinct remains of reed- 
like plants and fossil- wood, said to belong to the coni- 
fers, also occur, though rarely. Landt states that some 
of the coal is superior to that &om Ayrshire, and Trerel- 
yan says that it resembles the kind used in Edinburgh ; 
but the specimens procured by Allan burnt with diffi- 
culty, and had the ligneous texture and bad smell of 
that which is found in the basaltic rocks of Antrim. 

The dolerite or trap, except where it approaches to 
basalt or conglomerate, forms tabular masses, with sur- 
faces parallel on the great scale to the principal divisions; 
a kind of structure best se^n from some distance, espe- 
cially on the precipitous coasts. According to Dr Forch- 
hammar, the beds dip towards a point in the interior of 
the group, at an angle varying from four or five degrees 
in the centre, to ten on the outskirts, as in the south of 
Suderoe and Myggenss. This confirms the opinion as to 
the destruction of part of the system on the south-east, 
where partial alterations may be seen in the direction oi 
the strata.* 

The upper surface of all the trap strata retain the 
plainest marks of the mass having formerly been in a 
fluid state. Many of them are slaggy, or resemble coils 
of rope or crumpled cloth, similar to some of the Icelandic 
lavas, and are covered with a thin broken layer of red 
oxide of iron. Similar appearances are more rarely 
found in the interior of the beds where any separation 
has taken place, and it there seems to depend on a par- 
ticular kind of conglomerate breaking through and dis- 
turbing the body of the rock. 

Numerous veins of basaltic or porphyritic dolerite 
rise through the strata, but without producing any 
change in their appearance or position, and can sometimes 
be traced from one island to another. Like those in Ice- 

• In Suderoe, the dip is N.N.E. ; in Myggenses E. ; in North 
Oesteroe S.S.E.; in North Stromoe S.S.E; in the middle of 
Oesteroe E.N.E. ; in the south of Stromoe E.S.E ; and on Nal- 
soe S.S.E. to S. No observations were made on the north-west- 
ern islands, as, from the unevenness of the strata, it is only practi- 
cable under particular circumstances. 


land, they are in many instances divided into columns, 
perpendicular to the sides, which here also have fre- 
quently a vitreous coating ; and being, for this reason, 
easily destroyed by the sea and moisture, give rise to deep 
perpendicular gullies. On the shore near Saxen there 
is a singular vein ; at first it is perpendicular, but soon 
turning to the left in the form of a hook, it vanishes. 
Within the curve rises a second, resembling the letter 
S, and soon also ends. It is succeeded by another of similar 
form and duration; but a fourth, setting off from within 
the last curve, continues perpendicular to the water. As 
all the sounds between the islands run nearly in the 
same direction, Mackenzie thinks that they may have 
been originally huge veins, destroyed by various aqueous 
agents, reducing the once solid group to its present frag- 
mentary condition. 

Still more singular are the phenomena of the conglo- 
merate to which we formerly alluded, piercing through, 
disturbing, and altering the superior beds. These efiects 
are most distinctly seen on the eastern coast of Suderoe, 
Nalsoe, and Oesteroe, exactly where a part of the group 
is supposed to be wanting. In Qualboe Fiord the beds 
of amygdaloid are bent into waves, broken in pieces, or 
separated by intruding wedge-shaped masses of basalt. 
Large angular fragments of a red amygdaloid are enclosed 
in another of a grayi^ colour, and the comers of the 
chabasite are rounded as if melted. The regularity of 
the coal strata on the opposite coast has altogether vanish- 
ed ; they are divided by columnar basalt, compressed to 
a few inches, and in places where, according to the dip, 
they should already be below the level of the sea, are, 
along with the slate-clay, raised up in pieces nearly a 
foot in diameter, and involved in the conglomerate. In 
Vaagoe a slaggy mass affects the black porphyritic dole- 
rite in a similar manner, colouring it red on both sides^ 
and as if welding it to the alternate layers of tuffa. 

On Oesteroe, in a place where the porphjrry is much 
disturbed by the conglomerate, a small mass, similar to a 
stream of lava, flows from the point of contact between 
the amygdaloid and the irregular basalt. The sor&ce is 

874 oEOLooy. 

horizontal, and it increases much in size daring its pro- 
gress down the trap strata, but is soon interrupted by 
the sea. It consists of fragments of red porphyry in a 
basis of the same colour, the latter bearing eyident marks 
of having been melted. 

On the western side of Stromoe, a very curious hei 
of greenstone occurs. It is composed of titan iron and 
fe^>ar, has a columnar structure, and an arerage thick- 
ness of one hundred feet. It lies sometimes conformable 
to the regular trap, at others cutting it at a greater or 
smaller angle, yet, without producing any change on the 
nature of the stone or the relative position of the strata. 
It has been traced in an undulating bed from Norderdahl, 
where it involves a conical hill of horizontal trap, over 
Skiellmgsfeld to the north of Leinum. On the Ya^^oe 
Fiord, it is found at the level of the sea, whilst on the 
Leinumfield and other places it attains an elevation of 
1800 feet, large surfaces being as it were paved with its 
pillars, between which no pla^t can take root. 

Such are the ancient formations found in these islands^ 
where they are succeeded by none of a more recent cha- 
racter. The quantity of debris borne down by the rivu- 
lets is too small, compared with the wide and deep ocean 
that surrounds them, to form any alluvial deposites at 
their mouth, while the form of the land prevents any ac- 
cumulation on its surface. A bank of sand and mud 
has, however, been traced upwards of twenty miles to 
the eastward of these islands, usually at the depth of from 
forty to a himdred fathoms, adding another link to the 
chain of evidence in support of the former existence of 
land in that quarter. This bed is replete with brokoi 
and entire shells and echini ; and fish-bones occur in one 
part (long. 6° 30', lat. 61° 60'), called the bone-bed, so 
abundantly, that the lead cannot be drawn up without 
some vertebrae being attached.* 

The minerals which may be obtained in several of 
these islands are well known to collectors for their extra- 
ordinary size and beauty. Olivin in granular masses, so 

• Lyell's Geology (6th edition), toI. iii. p. 272. 


oommou in many trap rocks, is entirely wanting in 
Faroe, though peridote, in porphyritic crystals, occurs on 
Tindholm. Chlorophsite is found at Qualhoe, in frag- 
ments originally transparent, but becoming completely 
black on exposure to the air, whilst the noble, fire, and 
^rl opal is disseminated in small nodules through a 
Ulsp&r porphyry near the Leinumvatn. Copper, native 
81 well as oxidized, is foimd in many places both in 
tnp and tufia, and some of it was taken to Kongsberg in 
Norway, but was too poor to pay the expense. Forch- 
hammar was shown gold, probably procured from some 
of the rocks there, but never could discover any trace of 
it in them, though Trevelyan says that it occurs along 
with the native copper, and also very rarely alone. The 
ohabaaite is the most important of the zeolitic family, 
characterizing the amygdaloids of the upper porphyritic 
group, whilst heulandite prevails in the under part. 
Btilbite, mesotype, and apophylite, along with calcareous 
spar, are almost constantly found filling the vesicular 
cavities of the trap rodoi. According to Forchhammar, 
the formation of zeolite by the action of the atmospheri- 
cal water on the dolerite seems still in progress. Con- 
glomerates are found in fissures where the zeolite acts the 
part of calc-spar ; and as the springs deposite a similar 
nnter, in the summer, when the small brooks are dry, their 
whole bed is white. He has even found in deep cavities, 
where there was little evaporation, masses half gelatinous 
half crystallized, which put the continuous formation of 
zeolite beyond doubt. Magnificent specimens of calce- 
dony, sometimes in round irregular masses, at others re- 
sembling bunches of grapes, are also very conmion, and 
have probably been formed in a similar manner.* 

* The (Ideological features of the Faroe Islands were first described 
by our distinguished countrymen Sir George Mackenzie, and 
Thomas Alkn, Esq., so well known for his mmeralogical acquire, 
ments (Edin. Phil. Trans. toI. tU. (1815) pp. 213.227, 229- 
267); and afterwards by Trevelyan (Edin. Phil. Trans, vol. iz. 

{>. 461-464); and by Dr Forchhammar, the celebrated Danish geo- 
ogist. (Karsten's Archit. fur Mineralogie, toI. iL (1830) p. 


Botany oflcelandy Qreentandy and Faroe. 

Caosef of seantj VegeUtioii — General View — ComparatiTe TaHe 
of Natural Fimilint Faroe Islawdi- No Woods— Plants ftnnd 
there^ bat wanting to the others — Plants used for Food— Height 
of Vegetation on the Mountains— Greenland — Deficiency of Ve- 
getation — Dwarfed Appearance of the Trees — Iceland — Compa* 
rison with Scotland and Lapland— Cryptogamous Vegetation- 
Trees and Shrabs — ^Distribntion of Vegetation — Plants in toV 
eanic Soils— Near the hot Springs— Useftil Plants— The Sani. 
eom— Birrh — Willows— European Character of Vegetation- 
Iceland Moss. 

The varied fonns of vegetable life that clothe the surfiKd 
of the globe are arranged in certain groups^ determined 
by the peculiar character of each plant. All are not 
equally adapted to every land, and the dimate which fos- 
ters one species or genus to a vigorous maturity, blights 
and destroys others, which, again, find a favourite 
residence in latitudes hostile to the existence of the for- 
mer. Fertility of soil, elevation of temperature, and 
abundant humidity, are the great requisites to a luxuri- 
ant vegetation, and are especially necessary to the more 
beauti^ and useful tribes. But all these conditions, 
except perhaps the last, which alone may prove rather 
injurious thmi beneficial, are wanting to tiie countries 
now under consideration. Their soil is thin and barren, 
their climate cold and stormy; whilst, instead of gentle 
and refreshing showers, the atmosphere deposites its 
superabundant moisture in snow or ice, withering the 
tender leaf and crushing the opening flower. We need 
not, therefore, be surprised at the limited v^petation of 
those islands,but rather that any plants should be enabled 
to withstand so many adverse circumstances, and have 
foimd their way thither across the intervening seas. 



Iceland, whether from the greater variety of toil, or 
from having been mora carefolly examineil, coDtaina th« 
most nomerous assortment of plants, amauDting in all 
to 870 species, of whicli 472 arc phenogamoos, and be- 
long to 161 genera. Greenland poBMSses little more than 
half that number, or 460, of which a &r smaller propor- 
tion, namely 105 species and 84 geners, are phenogam- 
ons. In Faroe, B83 are described, of which 270 speciM 
and 146 genera are flowering plants. Iceland has thus 
on an average nearly throe species to one genus, Groen- 
lond rather more, and Faroe rather less than two ; whilst 
in Scotland the proportion is again about three to each 
genus. Fuller details will be found in the following 
comparative tables of the number of species in each 
natural family discovered in those regions, which it is 
hoped will not be without interest to the ecienti&o 
botanist. To this it will only be necessary to subjoin 
a few remarks on the peculiarities of each district, and 
an account of some of the mora useful plants.* 














:; tJ^HSf^";:::::: 

■ The firit colomn nndH I 

cceii tnv Hcond the proportion c 
Te|[el>t[oa: (ha>, tfafgruniniRJiiFuiMi 

, or l-ioth 

from Tr»- 
inluid principullj from ths »!■■ 



Though, from their remams found in the mosses, birch- 
trees are known to have formerly grown in Faroe, they 
do not exist at present on account of the violent winds. 
In this respect those islands may therefore seem infe- 
rior to the more northern countries, but the milder 
climate they enjoy is proved by the occurrence of several 
species unable to endure the rigours of winter in Iceland 
or Greenland. Among the indigenous plants peculiar 
to this group we may mention the beautiful yellow iris 
and the vernal squil {Scilla verna), with six or eight blue 
flowers, both confined to the southern parts of Suderoe, 
and the former only found in one spot. More common 
are the rose-coloured creeping pimpernel (^AnagaUis te- 
nella), the fine leaved heath (Erica cinerea) witii bluish 
crimson bells, and the asphodel (Narthecium 08sifragum\ 
—the latter, notwithstanding its fabled power of soften- 
ing the bones of men and animals, forming a large propor- 
tion of the winter's hay, and used for dyeing yellow. To 
the north of Faroe we also lose the red or white lychnis 
(Jj. diokd), frequent on the sea-beaten cliffs, the common 
rose, which even here seldom flowers, several species of 
ranunculus, the water-cress (Nasturtium officinale), toge- 
ther with the imperforate and upright St John's wort 
i Hypericum dubium and .pulchrum). Here we also find 
DT the last time the colt's foot {Tussilago Farfara\ the 
tansy {Tanacetum vulgare), probably not indigenous 
though growing wild, and the common daisy (^Bellis 
perennis), which in mild winters may always be seen in 
flower. With these some others less interesting also dis- 
appear, but those mentioned may suffice as a specimen of 
the loss sustained by the more hyperborean floras. 

Few of the native plants are used by the inhabitants 
of these islands either for food or other economical pur- 
poses. The berries of the Comus Suecica, the juniper, 
and some other small shrubs, are eaten, and also the 
Toots of the wild tansy (PotentiUa anserina), the tubers 
of Equisetum arvense, and sometimes the salt astrin- 
gent leaves of the sea-plantain (P. maritima). If to 
these we add the scurvy-grass, five or six species of 
fuci> and the Iceland moss^ whose medicinal eflects are 


well knowDy we have enumerated almost all the indi- 
genous plants considered edible by the natives^ who 
in this respect seem hy no means difficult to please. 
Healing properties are ^so ascribed to a few, and others 
are employed for dyeing the home manu&ctures. Thus 
they procure black from the wood-crane's hi]l(Geranium 
sylvaticum)y green from the Potentitta angerina, and red, 
brown, yellow, or orange, from various kinds of lichens.* 
Greenland, though much of it is situated fitrther 
south than Faroe or Iceland, and even in the same lati- 
tude with the Shetland Islands, possesses a more truly 
arctic flora. It contains many plants unknown to 
moro genial climes; but, on the other hand, sereral 
which elsewhero rise into trees or shrubs, thero creep 
along the ground, or seek shelter beneath some pre- 
cipice from the snow and storm. It is only in the vici- 
nity of the houses, whero the soil has been enriched by 
the re&se of the seals, that vegetation becomes at all 
luxuriant. In the valleys, mosses and marsh plants re- 
place all others, whilst the dark rocks are clothed with 
numerous sombro-coloured lichens, which grow with 
great rapidity beneath the snow. It is exclusively on 
the sides of the firths that pasture-land occurs; and 
the gramineous plants form only a thirteenth part of 
the vegetation instead of a ninth as in Iceland, in which 
nearly four times as many species occur. In the ex- 
treme south, nature, though still bleak and steril, wears 
a moro smiling appearance. In sheltered spots there is 
sometimes good pasturage ; the service tree, which grows 
wild, maturos its fruit ; and it is thought that the 
potato might be cultivated with success. But &rther 
north, even in the warm fiords, the birches and alders 
that overhang the rivulets are seldom the height of a 
man, and their crooked stems arc only three or four 
inches thick. The former in general aro even more 
dwarfed, whilst the willows and juniper hardly rise firom 

* Landt enumerates 308 plants, of which 204 are phenogamoos, 
as growing in Faroe, and a more complete list was pubhshed by 
Mr Trevewan in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal (vol. xviii. 


the ground. These, with the black crakeberry, wortle- 
berry, and the angelica, form the usual vegetation, and 
supply the natives with a favourite food in summer. 
The crowberry, a low heath-like plant with black juicy 
berries of an agreeable taste, is also abundant, together 
with the beautiful creeping azalea, distinguished by a 
profusion of small red flowers.* 

Iceland, as appears from the tables inserted above, con- 
tains a far greater variety of vegetable productions. This 
is in some degree owing to its wider diversity of soil, 
from the deep marsh to the dry sandy waste or scorified 
lava rock, each of which possesses characteristic plants. 
Though the mean temperature of no part of the island 
is high, yet there is a considerable difference between 
the climate of the sheltered valleys of the coast and that 
of the mountains, where ice and snow hold undisputed 
sway. Hence though the number of species may be 
considered as small compared to that found in other 
countries, it is less so than is usually supposed. Lapland, 
which forms the fairest object of comparison, notwith- 
standing its more favourable position for receiving acces- 
sions of plants from warmer countries, only contains about 
twenty more ; the number in it being 496, whilst 472 
phenogames have been described in Iceland. Com- 
pared with Scotland, from which it does not differ very 
much in extent, the deficiency is far more remarkable ; 
the latter possessing 1155 plants, or nearly two and a 
half times as many as the former. Its vegetation also 
differs considerably from that of Britain, 118 of its plants, 
or one in four, being unknown in this island, which is 
nearly in the same proportion with those of Lapland. 

The cryptogamous plants of Iceland bear a much 
smaller relation to the whole vegetation than the same 
class in Scotland. The proportion, also, of the orders is 
strikingly different, — ^the fungi, which in our country 
form forty-six per cent, of the whole cryptogamous vege- 

* The most complete list of Greenland plants we have seen is 
that given by Giesecke in Brewster's Encyclopsedia. Some notices 
may also be found in Crantx, Scoresby, and Graah, from whose 
works we have added a few species to Giesecke'a catalogue. 


tation, in Iceland are scarcely four per cent. Iceland, 
however, relatively to North Britain, abounds in lichens 
in the proportion of six to five, the number per cent, 
in the former being fifteen, in the latter twelve and a 
half. In the other orders the proportion is also in fiivonr 
of Iceland, particularly in regard to the hepaticfe and 
mosses ; the humble growth and imperfect organization 
of these plants enabling them better to withstand the 
severities of the polar climates, of which they are thus 
characteristio forms. The seaweeds or alge are also 
numerous, though less so than in Faroe, where they con- 
stitute above forty per cent, of the (cryptogamous vege- 
tation, whilst in Iceland they are twenty-two, and in 
Scotland a little more than that number.* 

The flora of Iceland contains few shrubs or trees, the 
whole number which can pretend to this character being 
only thirty-two. With the exception of some thicketo 
of birch and willow there is nothing even approaching 
to the character of a wood ; for the vast forests of the 
former that clothed the mountains to the very shore on 
the first arrival of the Northmen, have almost entirely 
vanished. Nature herself has in some instances con- 
tributed to this devastation, as happened to the wood 
of Thingvalla, which was destroyed by volcanic fire in 
the year 1587. The only remnants of these ancient 
forests, never very magnificent, may be traced in 
some of the sheltered valleys, where we also find 
the most luxuriant herbage intermingled with nu- 
merous flowers. One of the finest now in existence 
is at the base of the mountidn Skardsheidi, where the 

* The first tist of Icelandic plants seems to have been that of 
Muller in Novis Actis Nat. Cur. torn. iv. p. 203, et teq. This was 
foUowed by that of Zoega, published in the second Tolume of 
Olafsen's TraTels, and repubUshed, with the addition of some fifty 
upecies, by Hooker and Mackenzie. The fullest list is, however, 
that of Gliemann (pp. 136- 149, 171-1&3), who has added, chiefly 
from the contributions of Morck, a companion of Kotzebue in hu 
circumnavigation of the globe, above a hundred phanerogamous 
plants and about as many cryptogames. These additions have 
considerably altered the proportion of British species, which for- 
merly was nearly as six to seven, and now only as three to four, or 
six to eight. 


T>irclies in the centre are eleven or twelve feet high, and 
fkYG or six inches in diameter. When Hooker passed 
through it their expanded blossoms diffused an agreeable 
fragrance rarely known m Iceland, whilst iheFestuca vivU 
para and other grasses, with Silene acaulia and abundance 
of the elegant Polypodium dryopteris, formed a rich carpet 
which almost made him forget the desertscenery around.* 
We liave mentioned that dififcrent parts of the island 
are distinguished by peculiar groups of plants, and we 
siiall now shortly notice some of the principal of these. 
On the seasliore the most common arc the Zostera 
inaritimaf Cochlearia officinale and danica, whose leaves, 
commonly eaten like cabbage, are well known as 
a remedy for scurvy ; the Fulmonari amaritima and 
the lyme-grass {Elymus arenarius)^ here as in other 
countries valued for binding together the loose sand. 
Further into the interior we see Fhkum pratensey several 
species of the bent grass (Agrostii), the butterwort 
(^ringuicula wilgaris), used instead of garlic, Aira 
cfBspitona, many kinds of our common meadow-grass 
(J*od), some sorrels, and the Statice armeria or thrift. 
Along with these grow Cerastium vUcontm and vulgatum^ 
Potentilla anserinay whose roots are still eaten, though 
less commonly than in the middle ages, Plantago laU' 
ceolatay Holcus odoratusy Ranunculus acris and repens, 
Dryas octopetakiy occasionally used for tea. To these may 
be added Draha vemay Carex acutOy the dandelion, black 
crowbcrry, juniper, many willows, and similar plants 
intermixed with flowers, such as the rose bay willow-herb 
(Epilolnum angustifolium)y one of the most beautiful of 
the Icelandic plants, but almost confined to the western 
and eastern coasts, the winter-green, violets, primroses, 
with several others, and in the dry moors, heath, ling, and 
numerous whortleberries. In the marshes, which are very 
common in the low grounds, the plants usually met with 
are the Eriophorum polystachyoHy Menyanthes trifoliatOy 
serving as a guide to horsemen in traversing these dan- 
gerous patlis, its roots binding the soil into a firm mass, 

* IIuokcr*f Travels, vol. i. p. 320. Olafsen'g Reise, th. i. 
p. 89. 


whilst the Comarum palustre marks the deeper and im- 
passable spots. In the tame places also grow the ele- 
gant Parruusia pahutrUy Bhinanthus crista galliy Tri- 
glochin palustre^ Carex dtoicoy with many others of the 
same genus, and nnmerons EquUeta^ considered as hurt-, 
f ul to cattle, which yet are said to be very fond of them. , 
On the mountains the vegetation is distinguished by 
Akhemilla vu^aria and alpindy Rheum digynum^ Bartsia 
alpinOf Polygonum viviparum, from whose hnlbs the na- 
tives form a black but wholesome hread, Silene acaulUf 
Thalictrum alpinum^ several willows^ and, in the inter- 
vening valleys, Onaphalium tUpinumy whilst the fissures 
of the rocks are adorned by the beautiful flowers of ths 
Bhodiola rosea or mountain rose-root. 

Tlie volcanic districts have also some distinguishing 
plants which flourish there in the greatest luxuriance. 
In the rocky valleys where no grass grows, the stones are 
covered with the Iceland moss {Cetraria Islandica) 
spreading over the other lichens. The dry wastes dT 
volcanic sand form the favourite locality of tlie wild 
com or mclur (^Elymus arenarius). Even the naked 
lava rocks arc variegated with numerous lichens and 
mosses, Q» the Parmelia sarmentosa and Trichostcmum 
canescenSf the latter being from a foot to a foot and a half 
long. The Andromeda hypnoides often takes root in the 
fissures, the delicate tint of its flowers finely contrasting 
with the uniform blackness of the stone. Some time, 
however, must elapse before vegetation can commence 
on tlie smooth and glassy surface of these volcanic rocks; 
nnd hence the older lavas are often completely white 
with a species of bryimi, whilst the newer alongside of 
them are still quite naked. Even in the immediate 
vicinity of the warm springs many plants occur nourished 
to an unnatural size by the heat of the soil and the 
constant moisture. Thus the wild thyme is nowhere 
found in greater abundance than in the crocks of the 
rocky basin of the Geyser, which has checked the growth 
of aU other plants by converting the earth into stone. 
The Prunella vulgaris was found growing close to the 
boiling springs of Oelvcs, and had attained an unusual 


size ; and the Senedo sylvaticus, never fonnd in any other 
part of the island, occurred among some ruhbish at the 
Akrahver. At the baths of Laugames we observe the 
Sisymbrium ruuturtium, PotentiUa aruerinay and Plantago 
mqjoTf its leaves being wrinkled by the great heat. The 
two last are also common near other hot springs, the 
neighbourhood of which seems to be their favourite 
locality. In the warm clay near Krisuvig, the Ranun- 
cuhu acHSf PotentiUa amnrina^ and the TormenHUa 
erecta occur with the leaves of their corolla doubled. A 
species of chara has also been found flowering and bear- 
ing seeds in one of those springs, the temperature of which 
was so high as to boil an e^% in four minutes. 

Few of the Icelandic plsmts are deserving of notice for 
their utility to the human species. Many of those used 
for food or other purposes rather prove the poverty of 
the land, which compels its inhabitants to have recourse 
to such miserable substitutes, than their own intrinsic 
excellence ; and some formerly much esteemed are now 
neglected, the extension of commerce having introduced 
foreign substances, which have entirely superseded 
them. Thus the Geranium sylvaticum, one of the most 
beautiful plants, found every where adorning the frag- 
ments of rock with its large sky-blue flowers, was for- 
merly gathered for dyeing blue, though the art is now 
lost. This colour was considered as the most appropriate 
for warriors, and Odin himself is always represented as 
wearing garments of this hue, probably procured from 
the same plant, indigo and other exotic dye-stufis being 
then unknown. 

To the same class we must refer the Eljfmus arenariusy 
chiefly valued in other countries as binding together, by 
its long creeping roots, the loose sand on the seashore, 
but in many parts of Iceland, particularly the eastern 
coast, its seeds are carefully collected and made into 
meal. This plant, the melur of the natives, is a kind 
of grass, with a spike or ear four or five inches long, 
and generally appears in a sandy soil. The seashore and 
the tracts of volcanic ashes in the interior, are equally 
£Eivouiable to its growth, though it is principally from the 


latter that the seeds used for hread are ohtained ; and the 
natives regard it as a great gift wherewith the wise 
Creator has blessed those mournful wastes. The harvest 
is in August, when it becomes white in the ear, but as 
it is seldom fully ripe, it requires to be dried before 
grinding. It is cut with a sickle, made up in bundlei^ 
and carried home on the backs of horses. It is then 
separated from the straw and ground in hand-mills, cut 
out of a block of lava, into fine meal of a grayish colour. 
It is either baked into bread or eaten boiled with milk, 
and has a sweetish taste somewhat similar to malt, 
though more agreeable. It is thought more nourii^iing 
than the meal imported from abroad ; and the inhabitants 
of Myrdals, where it grows most abundantly, not only 
supply themselves witii this voluntary bounty of nature, 
but send it to other parts of the country. It is^ how- 
ever, far from being productive, and the natives con- 
sider it a good harvest when forty horse-load yield a 
tonne or four English bushels of meaL 

The willows are remarkably abundant, one or other 
of the seventeen species being found shoo^g up almost 
every where. The most common kinds are the Sola 
glauca, myrtillMeSy and lapponum, the last two, though 
familiar in Sweden, being unknown in Britain. Next 
to these is the Salia^ reticulata, and on the rocks the 
Salia; myrsinites and herbacea. Most of them are low 
creeping shrubs, and they are principally valued as food 
for cattle. The ink commonly used in Iceland is pre- 
pared from a decoction of this tree mixed with that of 
the arbutus or bear-berries. 

No plants are more abundant than some species of 
Carea, particularly the Cares acutOy which, while they 
form the best pasture in the island, prove also the truly 
European character of its botany. Though about a third 
of the thirty-seven species, foimd in this extensive genus 
are unknown to Britain, yet they have almost all been 
met with in other parts of the continent, particakrly 
in the cold mountainous regions of Lapland and Norway. 
It is, however, curious to observe some which appear to 
have strayed from more southern regions^ as the CartM 


crnithopoda from Italy and Germany, and tlio Carea 
rupentris from the mountains of Savoy. Tlio same remark 
applies to the Saxifrages, of which twenty-one species 
grow in that island ; all being European except two, the 
Saxifra^a Grcsnlandica and trictupidataf which belong 
to the neighbouring country of Greenland. The Gentians, 
another family chaiticteristic of the colder regions of the 
earth, also illustrate this point. Of the twelve species 
eleven occur in Europe, mostly in the Alps of Switzer- 
land and Scandinavia, whilst only one, the Oentiana 
quinqutfolia, is American, being found in Pennsylvania. 
Few of the other plants deserve particular notice, 
though we may mention the Koenigia IslandicOy which 
was first discovered in this island by the botanist after 
whom it is named, and since that period in Greenland 
and Faroe. The Angelica Archangelica is accounted a 
great delicacy by the natives of this and the neighbour- 
ing countries, who use both the stalk and root. It is 
found of the greatest size and perfection on those moun- 
tains near the coast where the sea-fowl build their nests. 
In Greenland it is called quannek, a name derived from 
the old Norwegian language, and it is considered better 
flavoured in those northern regions than in warmer 
countries. We formerly mentioned the gathering of the 
fiallagrass or Iceland moss (Oetraria Islandica)^ as a 
favourite employment of the females during the sum- 
mer ihonths. Of this vegetable there are three or four 
varieties, but the best, which is of a bright-brown colour, 
grows on the rocks and stones in the most barren parts 
of the land, and requires three years to attain its AiU 
size. It is used as their daily food by many of the natives. 
When its bitter purgative quality has been extracted 
by boiling it in water, it is dried, reduced to powder, 
and cither made into bread or mixed with milk. Its 
medicinal effects in coughs, consumptions, and other 
complaints, have been long known to the Icelanders, 
and have led to its introduction into foreign countries. 
The poor natives prefer this plant to all other food, and 
gratefully acknowledge ^ that a bountifal Providence 
sends them bread out of tho rery stones,** 

'. J • * ■! i • ■ , '■ '^ ■■ ■ -yy- 't ;■■ •:{ ,- ■ ■■fn.- 

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• /■•. : ' -1 • 1.' *■."■, -i,-!'-? -.M -ij-A^ 

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■ ■'. ■ ,'■ I I .r\i.{ii: H'. '.V »:j t-ti I" 

'■ ■ criipf Eft- xKh ;""•/' ■■^■'■■' •■;: 

•. . . • '''111! / -n.i !\t: >",■:>{■ 

Zoology qf Iceland, GreiefUarut^flna Faroe. 

■'» . • '■■ '-,1 -I 'I 

General View of animated Nature in these C^mj^^s—MA^ALIA 
— Domestic Animals — Rein-deer— Fox— Polar Bear^tptn)- 
duction on the lee— Wiiite ^are— Gr^enlaini- Mdnie^tcii^ 
Mice ferry Rivers— Seal— Morse— Oeta^oui Mauc^iiah-^bKi^ 
nantin — D(dphins — Ca'ingr Whale ^ Narwol .•- GsUhd«ti^ 
Common Whale— Gradual Bz1UKtioa4^BKiTBOLcxlT4^BB8li 

— JerfaleoD — Owls -r- Crows .^ Raven — • Grousp ,*~.F^che».tTr 
Plover — Lapwing — Heron — Oyster-catcher-^Sinjip^ . .Sfiffif 
— ^Dttcks— Eider Duck— Societies of Birds— Puffins— A v— 
Cormorant — Solan Goose — Gulls — Skuas— .'Petrels— No ' Rep- 
tiles in Iceland or Faroe— Ichthtologt — Salttioti-^'IVoift 

— Capelin — Eels — Herring^ — God — Remora .>- Flat ' 'Fisli ^ 
Sharks — Molluscous Animals — CrustaoesB — IiBeott-:*Bidkw4 

All those circamstances which regulate the'disti&u- 
tion of animal life on the surface of the globe combine 
to limit both its variety and abundance in the eountries 
now under consideration. Their insulmr sitnatioa pots 
nearly an entire stop to the migration of most trib^of 
mammalia, and of those land-birds endowed -with the 
least powerful organs of flighty whilst the ice-ibound 
earth and inclement skies refuse sufficient nouiiahment 
to promote the increase of such bs are naitlye to then. 
As the more extensive of these lantds^ in iheiar central 
regions at least, are doomed to almost pespetnal deso- 
lation, they only prove congenial abodos' t&^sucli aninAls 
as live either wholly or in part amidst the waters of the 
ocean. There tiiey are not only supplied witb «biuid- 
ant food, but by ^e iiearly unif^ixi 46n^peiii9^iir66o£tbii 


immense fluid mass, are protected from the frequent 
vicissitudes that occur on land. Hence fishes, water- 
fowl, and the amphibious mammalia, together with those 
rapacious birds, fit emblems of the old vikingr, whose 
soaring flight and predatory habits render them the 
denizens of every clime, constitute the great bulk of the 
vertcbrated animals. Thus, whilst there are probably 
no indigenous land qua^rupeijls^ Faroe at all, in Iceland 
there are only three or four, — two foxes, the polar 
bear, and perhaps a species of mouse, — all of which, 
it is likely, were floated thither on the Greenland ice. 
Even in this latter country, though frequently united 
in winter to the Amencan continent, the rein-deer, th6 
mhite hare, and another variety of mouse, form the 
only additions to the former scanty list. On the other 
hand, the seals and cetaces are numerous and prolific, 
flmd probably, by the food and clothing they supply, 
ftlone render many portions of those dreary regions 
habitable to the human race. 

T^e consideration of the other classes of animals 
^ould confirm these views. Thus, the feathered tribes, 
notwithstanding their greater powers of locomotion, 
snani&Bt the same subjection to the all-pervading influ- 
ence of climate. In Iceland more than a half of the 
species enumerated belong to the Natatorial orders, and 
neaiiy one-half of the remainder to the Grallatorial ; 
so that three-fourths of the species, and a &r la^er pror 
portion of individuals, are more or less aquatic in their 
bafa^ti^ whilst many of the residue are little more than 
occasional stragglers, which can scarcely be reckon- 
ed among the natives of the land. In Uie two oth^ 
countries nearly the same relations exist ; so that in aljl 
of them the species beneficial to man chiefly occur on the 
seashore. ; Though the fishes, from their place of reai- 
deoce, are less, afibeted by atmospherical changes^ ye^ 
when wie* e^ude tho Saloaonidt^ which, appear to 4e>- 
ligkt in ihdrgciid civiQrs.of the |iorth,.aliii08t thiej^h^e 
inhabit the 4>oean. 

Only About a dfmm cS,ir9^ Jaii4 nuwnnv>li»are fy^/i 
ini those i)qgioii^,aiid.tir9i-4bi]:4s.of the^ haye been inlror 


duced by man. Among the latter are the dog and cat ; 
the former of which is used in Grxeenland as a beast of 
burden and for food, bnt in the two other coantriesonly 
Talued for his assistance in taking charge of the flocks. 
Horses, goats, cows, the last generally without horns, 
and sheep often with four or five, have also been con- 
veyed thither from foreign coimtries. This is also the 
case with the rein-deer, which, though indigenous in 
Greenland and Spitzbergen, was introduced into Iceland 
so late as 1770, when three of them were brought from 
Norway and liberated in the south of the iskmd ; and 
since that time they have so much increased, that herds 
of thirty, forty, or even a hundred, fire not unfire- 
quently seen in the moimtainous districts. The natives 
make no use of them either domesticated or for the 
chase, but'complain much of the injury they do in con- 
suming the moss. As they seem to thrive, it is probable 
that they might, if tamed, prove a valuable addition to 
the comforts of the inhabit^ts. 

Two species of the fox occur in Iceland, the white or 
arctic fox (Ganis lagopus) and the blue fox (^Canis fiik- 
ginosus). The first of these, sometimes named the 
isatis, is seldom found at a great distance from the polar 
circle, near which appears to be its favourite residence. 
It is of a white colour both summer and winter, and is 
by some writers regarded as only a variety of the other 
kind, which it much resembles in its habits. This is 
more numerous, and very destructive to the flocks, and 
is larger and handsomer than the former. In Green- 
land it frequents the Seashore, living among fragments 
of rocks or holes in the clifis, and feeding on small 
birds, eggs, shell-fish, and even on grass or seaweed. 
The fur, which is very thick, soft, and silky, is in 
summer spotted with gray, blue, or white, and is highly 
prized in China. Olafsen says that the common brown 
ibx (fianis vulpes) is also found in Iceland, and that it 
sometunes attacks even the old sheep, clinging to them 
till they fall down through exhaustion ; but both these 
statements require confirmation. These animals have 
probably been transported to this island from Green- 


land on the floating ice, — a mode of conveyance which 
they are reported sometimes to employ in passing from 
one island to another ; and the last-mentioned traveller, 
on one occasion, saw no fewer than four on one piece 
sailing away on some such voyage of discovery. When 
they miss the islands they drift out into the sea and are 
lost., to the great joy of the inhahitants, as when they 
efifect a landing they either destroy or chase away all 
the eider ducks and other hirds. 

The most formidahle animal found in these lands is 
the large white or polar hear (JJrsua maritimus or 
arcticus), though it seems only an occasional visitant of 
the inhahited districts. It migrates to West Greenland 
with the floating ice in the beginning of winter, and 
leaves it again about the end of June. In Iceland it 
has been known from the first period of the colonization, 
being very often brought thither on the floes. They 
are seldom numerous, twelve or thirteen being the 
greatest number mentioned as arriving in any one season, 
and, as they commit great havoc among the cattle, the 
inhabitants soon destroy them. 

The white hare is only found in Greenland, where 
it frequents the snowy mountains, retaining this colour 
all the year round. The other animals of this order 
are rats and mice, the former with nothing peculiar 
either in appearance or habits. Of the latter the species 
found by Scoresby (if u« GramJandicus) seems peculiar to 
the eastern coast, and approaches in character to the 
lemmings. In Iceland, Olafsen mentions a white species, 
either a variety of the common house-mouse or of the 
field-mouse (Jf. sylvaticus)^ found in considerable num- 
bers in the woods, where it collects nuts for the winter's 
store of provision. In their distant excursions for 
berries these little animals have frequently to cross 
rivers, over which, on their return, they are said to convey 
their booty in the following ingenious manner : — The 
party of from six to ten select a flat piece of dry cow- 
dung, in the middle of which they place the berries in a 
heap, and, after launching it, embark upon it with their 
heads joined in the middle, and their tails pendent like 

j.vadd&n infthe rtieam^ In this Bdoatin' tlie pteng^ is 
^•cooimpUsliAd^ though the unstable bark oltens^n 
'. M^imekf. when iJie navigotora mneit sore themadtes 
4 by swimming; with the -loae of flielr whole caigo.* ' 
. . The history of the unphibiotis Tnafntimlfii on iSbksd 
coasts is mora interesting and the speeles ttiore nnmerdiis. 
., Six or seven kinds of seal are foUnd in Iddiatad^'aiid- tiro 
.or three others, known only by their ' native' natates, 
y ooGiur in Greenknd. They are of Teiy grdat hnportanoe 
to the inhabitants of all those eoontiies ibr their floh 
. and oily bat eq>eoiaIly for their skins, iHiieb are used both 
as a diess and as an article of export. These animals be- 
long to the camiyorons order of natusalists,' and their 
' heodsi both in form and expression, ha ve a considerable "re- 
semblance to that of a dog. Like it, too, they are le^y 
: tamedy and soon become strongly attached to tiieir keeper 
. or those who feed them. Their body is long and nearij 
conical, whilst their feet, almost buried in the skin, 
havemuchthe appearance of fins. They are exceedingly 
curious and inquisitive, any new object in the neighboor- 
hood of their haunts attracting their notice, often to their 
destruction, especially in those places where they have 
not been much harassed by man. They will follow a boat 
a long time seemingly astonished at the strange spec- 
tacle ; and in Iceland they are frequently seen fiur inland, 
having been enticed from their native element by the 
light of some cottage- window. The most generally dif- 
fiised species is the Phoca vitulina or common seal, found 
in vast herds on all the European coasts. The rough seal 
{Phoca hispida) is also common in all the three countries, 
though in Faroe apparently larger and more numerous 
than &rther north. It there measures six or even seven 
feet in length, and frequents the same haunts with the 

* Olafgen, th. i. p. 117. Doubts haTo been thrown by Hooker 
(vol. i. p. 52) and others on the truth of this acooont, fvhioh the 
author relates on the authority of eye-witnesses. It has since been 
confirmed by Henderson (vol. ii. p. 185-187), >^ho met Kith two 
persons who had seen it repeate<Uy. The more w« consider the 
wonderful adaptation of the instincts of animals to their peculiar 
circumstances, the less reason shall we find fur surprise that in one 
oooDtry they should possess habits unknown to them in another. 


former. In Greenland It never oecun iuthe op^ii »&, 
remaining always near the fixed Iceland gonenAly novth- 
ward of Difico Bay» many thouaands: being, killed 0?«ry 
year in Omenak's Firth, in latitude 72°.. >Acoordinf to 
Fabricius and Gieaecke, who make it the same with PA. 
/osiida^ it is tlie smallest known iqieciea, seldom exoeod- 
ing four foet in length. This would iacHne'iis to sus- 
pect th^ it is not tlie same with th^ one found in Fdl*6e. 
Jn Icuhmd it is scarce, only a few scattered ones being 
met with on the southern ooaat. 

The hooded seal (JPh, omtaia; ieonina of Mohr), so 
named from a pieoe of loose skin on the head, whiohtian 
be inflated at pleasure, and is drawn oyer its eyes when 
menaced (at which . time its nostrils also become like 
bladders), is rarely seen in Faroe and Iceland, but'fbund 
in great flocks round Cape Farewell. Nearly equal to it 
in size is the great seal (PA. barbata)^ only obserr^d in 
winter on the northern coast of Iceland, and seldom in 
Greenland. The harp or half*moon seal (PA. Gh^cenkm" 
dica)y known by the large black spots on its sides, ftoni 
which it has received its name, migrates to Ghreenlond 
from the north twice a-year, but ia rare in the two other 
countries. The Fhoca gryphus of Fabricius, considered 
by Professor Nillson as a distinct genus, and named by 
him EcdiochervLa griseus, occurs in Iceland, where it 
attains a size of eight feet in length. 

Much resembling the seals in its body and limbs, 
though very difierent in the form of its head, is the 
morse or walrus {Trkhecut rosmarus). It has no cutting 
or canine teeth in the under jaw, which is very much 
compressed, to make room for the two enormous tusks, 
sometimes twenty-four inches long, which project down- 
wards from the upper one. These consist of coarse ivory, 
and their huge sockets raising up the whole front of the 
face, covered with numerous semitransparont bristle8,give 
it a grim majestic aspect. It is twenty feet long, weighs 
from 600 to . 1500 lbs., and its skin, generally an inch 
thick, is covered with short gray or yellowish brown 
hairs. The largest arc found in the Icy Sea, sleeping on 
the floating ice, and, feeding on fuci and small marine 


animals. They are easily destroyed when caught out 
of the water, hut when attacked in their native element 
they sometimes attempt to overset a hoat, or make 
holes in it with their teeth. The small island of Saitok, 
at the mouth of Disco Firth, formed of allavial land, 
is covered with an immense quantity of their hones and 
skulls. At present, it only occasionally visits Iceland, 
though the numher of teeth and other remains dug np 
on the shore prove its former abundance, and even in 
1708 a vast number appeared on the east^*n coast. It 
still more rarely finds its way to Faroe, where only two 
or three have been met with. 

Of the herbivorous cetacea, the only species found is 
the Manatus Septentrionalis or lamantin, which has a 
considerable resemblance to the animal last described. 
As it is, however, very rare on those coasts, we shall 
not detain the reader with any description of it, but pass 
on to the common cetacea. Though some varieties of 
them occur in every sea, yet the Polar Ocean seems to 
be their favourite resort ; and against its cold tempera- 
ture they are provided with a sufficient defence in the 
thick coating of blubber every where lining their smooth 
polished skins. The old northern authors divided this 
£unily into those possessed of teeth, or ravenous whales, 
and those without these weapons of offence ; the former 
containing the modem dolphins, the most voracious and 
cruel of the race. Many of them are eaten, both in Ice- 
land and Greenland, their flesh tasting like coarse beef, 
though somewhat oily, but others, according to the an- 
cient laws of the former country, were forbidden to be 
used as food. One of the most valued is the beluga or 
white-fish (J)elphinu8 albicans)^ which measures from 
twelve to dghteen feet long, with a small, round, very 
fleshy head, and short blunt teeth. It migrates to West 
Greenland every year, about the end of November, and is 
killed with the harpoon, or caught in strong nets. The oil 
made' from its blubber is of the best and whitest quality, 
and its skin, an inch thick, is eaten raw, dried, or boiled. 
The common dolphin (2>. delphis), is found in all the 
three countries, as well as the porpoise (i>. phoaena), 


and during a storm are seen gamboling round the ships^ 
as if delighting in the contest of the elements. The 
grampus (Z>. orca), sometimes named the sword-fish, 
from the peculiar shape of its pointed dorsal fin, is one of 
the lai^gest of the genus, being occasionally more than 
twenty-five feet in length. It is of a fierce, voracious 
disposition, roaming about in numerous herds, preying 
on the larger fish, and even attacking the whale himself. 
The ca'ing whale or grind (2>. globtceps, Cuv. D, melasy 
or deductor, Traill), found in large fiocks off' the Faroe 
Islands, and farther south near Orkney and Shetland, 
is not mentioned among the animals of the more northern, 
countries. Some hundreds, and even a thousand, have 
been known to run ashore in the bays at one time. 
A similar accident also happens to the bottle-nosed whale 
(^Delphinus or Hyperoodon bidena), of which eleven hun- 
dred are said to have been captured in the Hval Fiord in 
the winter of 1809.* 

The most celebrated animal of this family is, however, 
the narwal (Monodon monoceros), or sea-unicorn. Pro- 
perly speaking, they have no teeth, but in their place, a 
single tusk, wreathed with a spiral groove, and directed 
straight forwards. This is eight or ten feet long, white, 
solid as the hardest bone, and sui'passing ivory in all 
its qualities. They are said to employ it in procuring 
their food, either sea-grass or molluscous animals, and 
in defending themselves from their enemies. They are 
most numerous in Greenland, north of latitude 70°, 
where they are found during the severest winters, in the 
fissures of the ice. The inhabitants eat both the flesh 
and skin, whilst their tusks form one of the most valuable 
articles of export. Only that on the left side usually 
attains its full growth, the other remaining hidden in 
the socket, though on rare occasions both have been 
found of nearly equal length. They were formerly sold 
at an exorbitant price, as the horns of the fabulous land- 
unicorn, but are now only valued as ivory. 

* It was probably the common dolphin, of which it is related in 
the Annals, that in the year 1337* 1700 were driven ashore in Ice- 
land, and some years afterwards, first 600 and then 800. 

T ri IChe -eodbelota ai«' dbtiagiiiahedi fibuKihewtlnviliiMMi 
b^ tibe imxnenaftbulk and 4a^u^(iaiad^dk■u;^of itbe^hesMb 
Two flpeoies. (Ph^mUr mtonqptiand iiMif»»d^)EiiWilic»)'ddciir 
iB^ibe; Iceland «ea% of .wkixih : the lia^t^^or* bfauitlKtdl4 
e^dbelot^ w themoie acmnoa. '.^ThBtwfaafe; is tbo>w^ 
)EO«vrQi to lequire any lengtheiieil* d0ierq>tic%Mtiioiig]| 
oaa.of the most luefiiiaBd wandarfnL iaiinalt jfoiind lA 
tiliote aeas. Fi¥e speaatsy tht Bahena diydieeUi^^^pkif^ 

p^itbase tuadfly «nd eyen oocur eBr4fae coasteiof 'Bgritaiilv 
^«gh tlie incessant peraccutionof mail hasnotvanoedy 
ilniKan them to seeksaliaty in the icy wifteis df tiie^ineti^ 
iiegioQS* The speoies of this genus an voy iimperfootiy 
datanoined, and ^ seems still doiibtfdlwhethettlteifi^vr 
laflt' mentioned am not yarietiesyf or tlia'yojpBg'of<Iotiift 
aidy. . The first or common whale is the most 'vaiaaUe 
spaoififly and, notwithstanding its immenee balkv "thi 
tamest and most easily caught. None .of tha otheiv aM 
much diflEevent from it ; ai^ as their bone isinftrior In 
fuality, and the blubber also in quantity,: they. are- less 
flciught after by Europeans, though the Greenlanden 
prefer the .fin-fish (J?, physdhis) on aooount of its fiesh, 
whioh they say has a pleasant taste« In ancient times 
the inhabitants of Iceland fitted out large boats for'thn 
fiflheiy, and erery person of consideratioB engaged in it 
But the misfortunes that befell the country in the 
noddle ages having destroyed the spirit v^ich pnorapted 
tn':this enterprise, it soon fell entirely ioto 4ho hands of 
•ttangers, whose incessant pursuit has driv^rai the>ftw 
fish that escaped them to more = northern latitudes,' and 
the larger kinds are now seldom seen on^tlie^ coast 
The gradual extermination of this. and some. of the fdre- 
tnenUoned species seems to point out the intcntiDniof P^ro* 
vidence that man, as he advaaoes in civiiisatum, aboiild 
ha more dependent for food .and idothingom the idomes^ 
tic races of animals and the produce of his own industry. 
Vf^ indeed find that the nationsi whose chief: sesodrfies 
ttte placed in the spontaneoiis ^!tta bf;ba£]irj^^ ^^ixlble, 

in.tbev .wil4. and wand<ii?;^g!.jclwKHft<efc^ i^ <^:efttwa 
tKey pursue, and tha iaJteraatyi abrtidance . Ba^imaaak 


e^Bseqnexit on suoh . uncertain supplies seem to nbfit 
ibffm for any steady and peiseyeiii^line of conduoti.*'-' 
t : The winged tribes, endeirod with more powerful 6it 
gans of looomotion, ore better adapted for being -diffuMd 
through islands than those animalfl whose wanderings 
ar!3 confined to the land. But even the smcdkr bird% 
that frequent inland aituations, are little liable to those 
^eeidents which seem to have been often the means' <6f 
disseminating species through wide ranges of eountrf^ 
A cninous instinct possessed by those tiiat inhabit shorte 
or islands also prevents them fn>m being carried by 
unexpected tempests to other lands. In their exeuiu 
simis over the ocean, Ihey generally fly against tlia wind^ 
so that they may be aided by it when returning homto 
with wesiy wjng. Yet sudden storms or unexpected 
changes in the dhection of the gale often bear tbem o«t 
to sea, and, together with the Imown moratory in^ina^ 
tions of many of the species^ account for the presenca 
of all the feathered inhabitants of these islands. " • >- 

The laigest of the fsdcon tribe common to ^ese thvee 
countries is the cinereous eagle (fVzleo or Aquiki aWiotUa}^ 
distinguished by its brown clouded plumage, which varies 
much at different ages. It generally frequents the 8S»- 
eoasty sitting on the rocks with flag^g wings, or flyii^ 
slowly along the shore, looking for its prey. In Iceland 
it also inhabits the fresh water lakes, feeding on the tMtti 
and salmon. In Faroe, a pair were accustomed to breed 
on a rock in Tindholm, so steep that the boldest bird^ 
catchers never dared to scale it. Once they carried off • 
ehild, and were followed to their eyry by the distraoted 
mother, but too late to save her in&nt. 

The Iceland or jer>fidcon (F, Uiandieui) also foimd 
in all these countries, though most common in the isfauMl 
whenoe it is named, was formerly much prised for 
hawking, and great numbers were exported every year. 

■ '» " f ■ ■ I '■■ '< ■-■■■;■■ ■!■ 

* The snimah of tiiis Huaily Ibnnd in the opposite or Anfa tfctfe 
Oeeans, are distinct from those in the Arctic Sew ; but are equal\y 
trith them vanishinpf before the persecution of man. Accordmg to 
M. Lesson, those of the Northern Pacific also fohn a dlstincfgroop. 
PictioanabaiClasaJ d'iiiit« Nafc^ ;tom. ^iii p. HOSii . • i / 1 1 / 


At that time the 'King of Denmark had a &lconer in 
the island to catch or hnj the young, and the inhahitants 
were forhidden to molest them. It is a powerful bird, 
two feet long, with white plumage, often marked by 
dusky lines or e^ts. They are by no means numerous in 
Iceland, even though they are now no longer sought for. 
They were caught in nets baited with a live partridge or 
pigeon, and sold for a price varying according to their 
colour, those altogether white being most valued. The 
bird-catchers received about £2y 12s. for each; and the 
whole were sent to Denmark to the royal mews, whence 
they were distributed as presents throughout Europe. 

The only species of owl found in those countries is 
the snowy owl (Struff nycttSy Temm.), called orpUe by the 
Gxeenlanders. The plumage of the young ones is 
variegated with brown spots or bars, but these vanish as 
they grow older. Its &vourite resort is the vicinity 
of the glaciers in the interior of the country, where it 
preys on every bird it can master, both by night and 
day. It sometimes visits Iceland, and is met as far south 
as the Orkney Islands. 

Several species of crows are observed in those regions, 
particularly in Faroe. There the common crow {Corvus 
comix) is very abundant, and though in smaller numbers, 
the carrion crow and jackdaw. The two former are also 
found in Iceland, though very seldom. The largest of 
the genus, however, the raven, is more numerous in 
that island, where it is the most common bird, and seems 
to thrive remarkably, being at once larger, stronger, 
and bolder, than in more southern countries. It is veiy 
rapacious, destroying the lambs, sheep, and all small 
animals it can find, and is very injurious to the eider 
ducks, chasing them from their nests, and sucking their 
eggs, or devouring their young. • It is, for the same 
cause, at constant enmity with the oyster-catcher, 
whimbrel, plover, and skua. In summer they are 
dispersed over the whole island, but on the approach of 
winter, they attach themselves to the houses in parties 
varying from two to ten, according to their size and 
number of inhabitants. They remain there till springs 


and unite in driving away any stranger that may ven- 
ture to intrude into their society. 

In Faroe a variety is not uncommon, which is de- 
scribed as either altogether or partially white. Some 
systematic writers make it a particular species under 
the name of Corvus leucophceus. Though observed in 
the Orkneys, it is most common in the former islands, 
where observation proves it to be merely a variety. It 
is found in the same nests with others of the ordinary 
colour, and they are even seen paired together for years^ 
when sometimes the young are all black, at others one 
of the number is white. 

Two or three species of grouse occur in those coun- 
tries. The ptarmigan {Petrao lagopus) during the sum- 
mer, when it is of a brownish colour, inhabits the 
Greenland mountains, feeding on the crowberries, and 
in winter descends to the valleys on the shores. Ac^ 
cording to Faber it is not found in Iceland ; but another 
is seen there, namely, the Petrao allnu, wiUow-grouse, 
or snow-hen, of a larger size and redder colour espe- 
cially when in its summer dress. The quail (^Perdut 
coturnix) on rare occasions visits Faroe. The rock-dove 
(jColumha livia) nestles in all the inhabited islands of 
that group ; but it contrives to conceal its nest with so 
much skill, that it is seldom discovered by the inha- 
bitants. It is of a bluish-ash colour, with some white 
and black spots, and feeds on the imripe barley, as well 
as on the roots of some plants. It is the same with 
the Columha cenas of Pennant, and seems conmion on 
all the steep rocky coasts of Europe. 

Other smaller land-birds are very few, and many that 
constantly reside in Britain are there migratory. This 
is the case with the Lapland-finch, the redpole, the 
wheatear, and the snow-bunting, that hardy denizen of 
the northj which are nearly all that are found in Green- 
land. In Iceland and Faroe the redwing, blackbird, and 
fieldfare also occur, together with the starling and pied 
wagtail. If to these we add the common wren, the 
meadow-pipit, the swallow and martin, whidi, however^ 
are very seldom seen in Iceland, we shall have enuma^ 



rated almost the whole species known. Faroe is, how- 
ever, sometimes yisited by the lark, the yellow wagtaO, 
the wryneck, and on one occasion at least by the beautiful 
golden -crested wren, whose brilliant tints excited great 
astonishment among the natiyea. The rock-pipit is also 
a common inhabitant of the coast, running about among 
the loose stones and seaweed. 

The Grallatorial tribes are comparatively more nume- 
rous, their aquatic habits supplying them with greater 
abundance of food. Greenland is still the most deficient, 
possessing only about half as many as either of the 
two other countries, probably in consequence of its 
rocky soil. The snipe is found in them all. The ringed 
and golden plovers are also common migratory biids^ 
visiting them all in spring, and retiring before winter 
commences, whilst the Charadrius auratus is peculiar 
to Faroe. The beautiful crested lapwing occurs in 
Faroe and the south of Iceland, where, as well as in 
Greenland, the jadreka, or black-tailed god wit (^Limosa 
melanura), is sometimes seen. The curlew is also rare ; 
but the whimbrel is more frequent, enlivening the 
dreary marshes, with whose scenery their wild harsh 
cries well accord. 

The heron is only an occasional summer visitant of those 
islands, where many strange stories are told of it, and 
the Faroese fishermen believe themselves sure of success 
when they have one of its feet in their pocket. The 
oyster-catcher (^Hcematopus ostrealegus), haunts the sea- 
shore, feeding on worms and shell-fish, which last it 
opens with its beak. Landt relates that when it attempts 
this with some of the larger muscles, the latter often 
closes its shell, and holds the bird fast till it is caught by 
the natives. In these islands it builds its nest in the 
moors by the sides of streams or lakes, and though 
usually shy, will then pursue the hunter with deafening 
cries. It is a sworn foe to the ravens, crows, and skuas, 
and will not permit them to approach its nest, driving 
them away with repeated blows of its long bill. On 
tliis account it is a fevourite with the natives, who are 
unwilling to see it shot. It remains in Iceland all the 


year ; but in winter is only found in the southern dis- 
tricts, whereas in summer it also visits the north. 

The Natatorial order of birds are more aquatic in their 
habits than even the former, and better adapted by their 
organization for procuring their food amidst the waters* 
Their feet, situated far back, and their palmated toes 
render them expert swimmers, whilst they are protected 
by their dense plumage, saturated with oil and lined 
with thick down, from Uie effects of cold and moisture. 
They are thus well fitted to subsist in the dreaiy re- 
gions of the north, where, though the rivers and 
marshes may be bound up in ice, and the land buried 
beneath the snow, they can generally find nourishment 
on the restless ocean. 

The largest and noblest of this class is undoubtedly 
the wild or whistling swan {Cygnu9 musicus)^ with pure 
white plumage, slightly tinged on the head with orange 
yellow. This majestic bird is five feet long, and with 
extended wings eight broad. It is rarely seen in Greene 
land, and appears merely to rest in Faroe on its journeys 
to and from Iceland in Uie spring and autumn. Some of 
them, however, remain all the winter in the latter, and 
during the long dark nights their wild song is often heard 
as they are passing in troops from one place to another. 
It appears to be a kind of signal or watchword, to pre- 
vent the dispersion of the party, and is described as 
remarkably pleasant, resembling the tones of a violin, 
though somewhat higher, each note occurring after a 
distinct interval. This music is said to presage a thaw, 
and hence the Icelanders are well pleased when, in long- 
continued frosts, it breaks their repose. In summer 
these birds are found in many of the lakes and rivers, 
particularly near the Skaga and Boi^ar Fiords ; and 
they are very numerous on the Amarvatns and Hoi- 
tevarde-heide, where a tract of forty miles long by 
twenty broad is almost entirely covered by marshes, 
lakes, and small ponds. Here they lay their eggs in 
spring, which are gathered by the natives, and in August, 
when the old birds moult and the young cannot yet fly, 
many persons go thither to collect the feathers and catch 



the birds. Besides the quills, the skins are' also of con- 
siderable value, and the natives eat the flesh, which is 
dry and tough.* 

Next to this we may notice the wild goose {Afuer 
ferus\ which remains during the summer in Faroe ; but 
now becoming much rarer, as it retires to more secure 
retreats. The duck tribe is also very numerous in the 
lakes and rivers, especially in the Myvatn, in the north 
of Iceland. The mallard {Anas bagchai) the origin of the 
domestic duck, is generally diffused through them all, and 
the teal is common in Iceland and Faroe. Landt men- 
tions the^mwctrctaamong the birds of the lattercountiy, 
though only once seen by him. This is perhaps the same 
with the small duck, less than the teal and with a bunch 
of feathers on its head, which is sometimes shot there 
in winter, which Graba thinks may perhaps be the 
oitron-duck of Norway. The shieldrake {Anas Tadoma) 
is the most lively-coloured of all the family, the ground 
of the plumage being white, the head green, the wings 
varied with white, black, red, and green, whilst its 
breast is adorned with a cinnamon-coloured zone. It is 
found in Iceland, and makes its nest in the sandy downs. 

More interesting, however, than any of these are the 
eider ducks, of which we find two species (Samateria 
spectabiHs and S, moUisaima) in those cold regions. The 
first of these, the king-duck, notwithstanding its high- 
sounding name, is almost eclipsed by its neighbour. 
This bird is observed in all these countries, and is indeed 
very widely diffused round all the coasts of the northern 
Atlantic. In winter they resort to the open sea, return- 
ing to the small islands on the coast in spring when the 
grass begins to grow. In Iceland they are exceedingly 

* The account of the midnight song of the swan, is from Olafsoi, 
who says that it, das allerangenehmste zu hOren ist, " is the most 
pleasant to hear." The singing of the swan is now regarded as a 
fable, yet Henderson talks of hearing them '* singing melodiously'' 
in the Hvita. In the Edda we also find Niord, when compelled to 
reside in the interior of the country, saying, ** How do I nate the 
abode of the mountains ! There one hears nothing but the howling 
of wolves, instead of the sweet singing of the swans who dwell on 
the seashores.'' — Vid. Mallet's North. Ant. voU ii. p. 58. Hen- 
derson, vol. ii. pp. 10 136. Olafsenj th. i. p. 34* 


xxumeroiis on the western coast, especially near the 
Breida Fiord, where are most of those small islands 
on which they prefer to hreed. The ground colour is 
white, greenish on the back of the head and neck, 
and tinged with a vinous red on the breast. The fore- 
he^ is a glossy violet-black, the belly and rump deep 
black, and the quills and tail-feathers dark ash-gray. 
The female is reddish-brown, marked with black or 
dusky streaks and bars. The young birds during the 
£rst year closely resemble the female, only they are of 
a darker brown, and have more white on the head and 
neck. Afterwards they get a band on the top of the 
head of brown feathers mixed with a few white, then 
the neck and shoulder feathers become brighter, till 
they only differ from the very old ones in Uie brown 
streak on the head, and the less lively tint of the wine- 
led on the breast. They are said to be four years in 
coming to full maturity, when they measure about two 
feet in length. The Icelanders think that they live to 
a great age, sometimes to 100 years ; and one pair are 
known to have frequented the same nest at least twenty 
years, during the last of which both were entirely white. 
They place their nest on the ground near the sea, or on 
a projecting rock, and prefer the small grassy islands, 
where they are not liable to be disturbed by dogs or foxes, 
which are in constant search for them. The nest 
is composed of seaweed or grass lined with down pluck- 
ed from their breast; and to induce them to choose 
particular islets, the people supply them with hay. 
The eggs are olive-green, sometimes greenish-blue, or 
surrounded by a green ring, and are usually four or six 
in number, though sixteen have been found in one nest 
frequented by two birds. The eggs and down are twice 
removed, and the nest is repaired a third time, the 
drake supplying the down to line it, that of his partner 
being now all exliausted. The old birds are said to sub- 
mit very quietly to the removal of their eggs, but the 
younger ones often fly at the intruder, and endeavour to 
defend their nests. When they are robbed three times in 
succession, they entirely forsake the place. They begin to- 


deposite their eggs about the commencement of Jnly,ancl 
the young appear about six weeks afterwards. Soonalter 
leaving the shell, the mother conducts them to the sea, 
when the male, which had hitherto continued watching 
by the nest, takes hisdeparture. The young do not return 
to the land, but frequent the skerries, where they feed on 
the fuci tmd small molluscous animals. The eggs are 
eaten by the natives, and the down is a valuable article of 
export. Each nest contains about a sixth of a pound of 
clean down, or, including the three times that it is re- 
moved, half a pound. What is plucked from the birds 
after their death is of no value, having altogether lost 
that elasticity which is so remarkable in the other. 
About two or three thousand pounds weight of it is ex- 
ported from Iceland every year. In Greenland the skin 
is preferred for shirts to all others ; and from the colony 
of Egedes-minde alone 1000 poimds weight of down 
have been produced. 

The remaining birds of this order are all marine in 
their habits, seeking their food in the ocean and nestling 
in the precipitous cHfis that surround the shores. They 
seem in some measure gregarious, choosing to build their 
nests all on one rock, though others apparently equally 
adapted for this purpose may be found at no great dis- 
tance. Some have sought a reason for this selection 
in the greater abundance of food near these places ; but 
the opinion of Faber, who thinks that they are deter- 
mined by the love of society and a wish to return to 
their first home, is the more probable. The aspect of 
the place has also an effect on their choice, as of twenty- 
five of these bird-rocks (vogelberg) as they may be 
called, in Faroe, all of them look to the west or north- 
west, none to the east where equally advantageous situ- 
ations occur. This preference may partly be ascribed 
to the greater frequency of west winds near these 
islands, since the birds always like to fly against 
the wind when they depart, that they may enjoy its 
assistance in returning home. But the nests are not 
on this account exposed to the fiiU fury of the storm, 
being generally placed so as to be protected by some 


projecting clifiF or rock. The words of the poet strike 
every one as singularly correct, when talking of these 
spots, where rock and sea are covered with the feathered 
race, and the ear deafened with their innumerahle voices. 

** Or where the northern ocean, in vast whirls. 
Boils round the naked melancholy isles 
Of farthest Thule ; and the Atlantic surge 
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides ; 
Who can recount what transmigrations there 
Are annual made ? what nations come and go ? 
And how the living clouds on clouds arise ? 
Infinite wings ! till all the plume-dark air 
And rude resounding shore are one wUd cry." 

Prohahly the most widely diffused and numerous of 
all these hirds is the puffin or lund. It forms its nest in 
holes which it digs in the clay or soft weathered rocks 
close to the sea, and in the breeding season the cli£& 
near the Westmanna Islands are completely covered 
with them. In Faroe they are so numerous that the 
inhabitants during the month of May live almost entirely 
on their eggs, and also catch mtmy of the birds themselves 
hy digging into their holes. In three days 5000 old ones 
have been taken on the island of Store Dimon alone, and 
thousands are often captured on the small uninhabited 
islets in the sea. Though very timid when separate, yet 
when a number are sitting together on the rocks they 
are said to be foolishly confident. 

The auks are very numerous in these places, especially 
the Alca torda or razor-bill. The great auk {A . impenni8)y 
which is the size of a goose, used formerly to be found 
in these countries. In Lwidt's time it had, however, 
become scarce, and at present is almost unknown even by 
name. According to Graba none have been seen in 
Greenland, Iceland, or Faroe of late years, so that the 
race may now be regarded as extinct. It used to be seen 
near St Kilda, where it was named the garefowl, a 
name similar to its Icelandic one of geirfugl. 

The cormorant (PAa/iarocoTflw? carfto), which is also com- 
mon, is eaten by llie Icelanders. Other two species (P. 
cristatus and graculus) are said to occur, but K{iber is 
very doubtful how far these are to be regarded Q&d^\ks^s;fiL 



from eacli other or from the former. Graba mamtams 
that only the very old birds have a crest, which they 
retain throughout the year. They sit singly or in flocks 
on the rocks watching the fish, on which they feed, and 
which they can pursue three or four minutes below the 
water. They build on rocks near the open ocean, and 
their nest is composed of sea-grass, in which they lay 
four whitish-green eggs. 

The terns or seanswallows, so named from their long 
pointed wings and forked tails, frequently present them- 
selves in these latitudes skimming the surface of the 
ocean, where they catch small fish, moUusca, and in- 
sects. The conmion tern (^Sterna hirundo) is abundant 
in all these countries, in Iceland particularly near the 
Myvatn,and their eggs are said to be yery delicate. The 
arctic tern is also found in Faroe, where Graba describes 
a new species under the name of Sterna bradiytarsd^ 
though the characters ascribed to it seem scarcely suf- 
ficient to distinguish it from some formerly known. 

Equally powerful in their flight are the gulls, almost 
constantly on the wing, braving the wildest tempests, 
and, though common in all latitudes, largest and most 
numerous in the north, where they feed on the car- 
casses of fish and cetacea. Nine or ten species are 
found in those regions, of which the kittiwake (^Laru9 
tridactylus) is the most- prolific, especially near Grim- 
sey in the north of Iceland. The young birds cover the 
rocks, which look completely white, and a well-directed 
shot will knock down from twenty to forty. The skuas, 
sometimes included among the gulls, are a singularly 
predatory race, living almost entirely on the fish ravaged 
from the others, and on this account have got the name 
of Lestris or thief. The common skua is the most 
abundant, particularly in Faroe, which, with the Heb- 
rides and Shetlands, constitutes its true home, whence 
it has wandered in smaller numbers to the surrounding 
countries. It forms the transition from the gulls to the 
birds of prey, resembling the one in body, plumage, and 
food, and the other in bill, claws, flight, and pradatoiy 
propensities. It not oiAy ^^tsvifii&thfi gulls, compelling 


them by violent strokes to disgorge the fish which they 
have obtained, but robs them of their eggs and young, 
and has even been seen to kill a puffin by a single blow. 
It is the object of aversion to every other bird, — ^none 
will build near or remain in the lakes where it takes up 
its abode, — every one looks at it with reserve, the bold 
attacking and driving it away, wliilst in the rounds it 
makes along thp coast, the timid hide themselves in the 
water or fly ofip to sea. It defends its nest with great 
boldness, and, it is said, will attack both animals and 
men when they approach too near. In one breeding- 
place on the island of Sandoe no fewer than fifty pairs 
had collected, and at no great distance a colony of the 
arctic skuas had established themselves. This species 
{L, parasiticus)^ distinguished by two long tapering 
tail-feathers, is rather smaller than the former, but, 
possessing the same habits, is equally hated by other 
birds ; and the pomarine skua, observed though rarely in 
Iceland, also agrees in these predatory dispositions. 

The petrels, so named from their faculty of walking 
on the water, frequent these islands in the breeding 
season. The northern fulmar, of which from 20,000 to 
80,000 young ones are annually caught on the West- 
manna Islands, and the cinereous sheerwatcr {Procet- 
laria glacialis and puffinus) are found in them ; whilst 
the stormy petrel is more conmion near Iceland and 
Faroe, where it builds its nest among loose stones or 
in holes along the shore. These birds (P. pelagica), well 
known by their supposed faculty of foretelling to the 
navigator the approach of storms, are about the size of 
a lark, and almost entirely of a brown colour. Their 
flight is extremely rapid, and in storms they are seen 
sheltering themselves in the hollows of the waves or 
behind a ship. They only approach land when they 
have young, and are rarely observed in the neighbour- 
hood of the coast.* 

* An account of the birds of Greenland will be found in Fabri- 
cius, and a list of them in Giesecke, whilst Egede, Grants, 
Seoresby, &e. rapply many incidental details; those of Iceland are 
enumerated in Faber*s *' Prodromus der Islandi&clveuOxTi>!Ccv«^<^r 


In sury eying the distribution of animated natnie on 
the earth, we are often as much struck with its defi- 
ciencies as with its excess. In two of these countries the 
class of reptiles is altogether wanting, not even a single 
species having been observed. In Greenland one species, 
the Rana temporaria has been found^but its presence only 
makes the want of others more perceptible. Their cold 
blood and limited muscular energy seem to unfit them 
for enduring the rigour of those climates, and whilst, at 
the present day, they increase in numbers and size as 
we approach the tropics, the abundant remains of gigan- 
tic tribes now extinct, tell of a period in the world's 
history when these arctic lands, if already elevated horn 
the ocean, wore a less bleak and desolate aspect. 

The fishes, though apparently less restrained in their 
migrations by the continuity of the element in which 
they live, have yet a particular dbtribution. Some 
species are found only within certain limits, and others, 
like the birds, migrate at fixed periods, either to deposite 
their spawn or to seek suitable food. Of this kind are 
the salmon, which at certain seasons forsake the sea for 
the fresh water, of which they form almost the only in- 
habitants in those countries. The common salmon has 
been caught in Faroe, and is very numerous in all the 
Icelandic rivers, feeding, according to Faber, on small 
fishes and a variety of minute marine animals. Some 
of them remain in the streams throughout the winter, 
but the greater number only appear for the first time in 
May. In the Reikedalsaa, in West Iceland, though 
many parts of it, owing to the hot springs, are lukewarm, 
salmon are often found, weighing not less than thirty or 
forty pounds. In some rivers they are caught by turn- 
ing ofiF the water, when they are procured in vast num- 
bers in the pools. Mr Hooker saw 2200 secured in 
this manner in one day in the Laxelve, about six miles 

and their habits are well described in his treatise ** Ueber das 
Leben der Hochnordischen Vogel." Many interesting^ facts will 
also be found in Olafsen and other travellers. A oatalof^ie of the 
birds of Faroe is contained in Landt. to which Graba has added 
about a score, w'liVi mucU ^aixxable matter for their hbtory. 


from BeikiaTik. The aahnon and common trout (8» 
trutta and/arid) are alao loond in the lakes and iiTeii% 
where the natives have names for some other kind% 
which may perhaps be distinct species. Besides the 
common and conger eels (Munena angmUa -and ecfoger)^ 
the Icelanders speak of a third, which they call kr^saoL 
They are said to be partial to the warm springs^ and are 
not known in the northern parts of the island. None of 
them are eaten by the natives, who hare an aversion to 
them on account of their resemblance to serpents. 

The great funily of fish allied to the cod are those 
from which the inhabitants of Iceland derive the greatest 
benefit. Most of the species prefer the cold or temperate 
regions of the ocean, where they constitnte the object of 
very important fisheries. The largest of them is the 
common cod, the stockfish of the natives^ and is partica- 
larly abundant on the southern and western coasts. The 
dorse (fl, calaria»)y smaller than the former, but more 
numerous, is at Uie same time thought a finer fish. It 
is usually salted in barrels^ whilst the other is dried on 
the rocks. There is a variety of it distinguished by a red 
colour, supposed to be caused by its living among reeds|, 
probably similar to the red cod in the neigfhbourhood of 
the Isle of Man. The haddock is also dried as stockfish, 
and from the thick white bones of its shoulders the Ice- 
landers cut various fimcy artidea^ such as chessmen. 
The torsk (^Brosmus xnUgarU) which is also pretty com- 
mon in those seas, is sometimes during storms cast on the 
riiore of Faroe in hundreds. It is said not to be found 
farther south than the Orkneys, and is occasionally seen 
above three feet long. The ling (JLota tnohoa) is also 
converted into stockfish, and is equally abundant with 
the cod, which it seems to surpass in size, being in some 
instances not less than seven feet in length. 

The remora or sucking-fish {Bkhenda ramora),common 
in the Mediterranean, is reported to have been on one oc- 
casion caught in Iceland, where the name is still known. 
They were four in number, and the &ct is curious as an 
instance of the distance to which certain species may 
wander from their native haunts, and of thft ^«si(. ^libS^^- 


cnlty of fixing their true geographical limits. The 
plaice, flonndery holibut, turbot, and other flat fish, are 
found on those coasts, and are eaten either fresh or 
dried. There is nothing in their history, however, par- 
ticularly interesting, unless that in one place on the 
northern coast they are seen with the cod, living in the 
fresh water of a lake on the brink of the ocean. 

Some cartilaginous fishes, amongst others the stur- 
geon (^Accipenser Hurio), occur in those seas. The white 
shark {Squcdus carcharias\ from twenty to twenty-five 
feet long, also frequents them, and there often falls a prey 
to its ravenous propensities. The fishermen catch it with 
strong hooks fastened to iron chains, and prepare oil 
from its liver ; each fish yielding nearly a tun. Supe- 
rior in size, though less ferocious in its habits, is the 
basking-shark {8, maaimui), which is more particularly 
an inhabitant of the northern seas. Allied to it is the 
saw-fish (^Prestis antiquorum)^ twelve or fifteen feet long, 
distinguished for its long sword-like beak, armed on 
each side with strong bony spines or teeth. With this 
it attacks the largest whales, and, notwithstanding its 
inferior bulk, avails itself so well of its greater activity, 
that in most cases it comes off victorious.* 

We cannot enter at any length into the history of the 
other inferior tribes of the animal kingdom. None of 
the Icelandic molluscous animals are large or briUiant 
in their colours, most of them being spiral univalves, 
not bigger than a pea, and others only like pin-heads. 
The inhabitants make very little use of them, and only 
a few are eaten. Of these we shall name the common 
oyster {Ostrea edulis), found in the Hval Fiord, muscles 
(Mytiltts edulis and modiolus)^ some cardia {€. edule and 
Grisnlandicum), and several m^<p, of which the M, trun- 
cdta and arenaria are the most numerous. The Cpprina 
Islandica, the only species of this genus, may idso be 
mentioned as found in that island, though by no means 

* The fishes of Iceland have been described by Faber in his 
work Naturgeschichte der Fische Islands (Frankfort 1829). See 
also Olafsen, Landt, Fabricius, Scoresby, Sec. 


confined to it alone. The Teredo navalis, so destructive 
to ships, and considered as originally a native of the 
torrid zone, is brought to these countries in the drift- 

Crustaceous animals are far from numerous. Among 
them we find the hermit-crab (Cancer bemharditSy 
Linn.), which inhabits the shells of molluscous animals, 
stopping the aperture with its right claw. On one 
occasion Olafsen mentions that he found the sea in a 
small bay coloured red with the young of one of this 
class of animals, probably that now mentioned. The 
water seemed thick like coagulated blood, and it was 
only on close observation that he observed in it the 
small insect-like creatures, two or three lines long, and 
quite soft. Parts of the ocean have been seen of this 
colour on other occasions, but whether from the same 
cause is not stated. 

The countries under our consideration have often 
been represented as sparingly stocked with insects ; but 
this seems only partially true, as Olafsen states that in 
one small valley he collected above two hundred kinds. 
Most of those described resemble the species common in 
Great Britain, and even in Greenland none but European 
ones occur. In Iceland the most numerous genera are 
the Musca, including the common window and flesh- 
flies; the tipula or crane-fly, and the mosquitoes (Ctilea 
pipiene), found in such immense swarms on the My vatn 
as to have conferred on it its name. The spiders 
(Aranea) are also numerous, and one of these, the 
fialla-kongullo or mountain-spider (A.crucigera, Olafsen, 
probably A, dtadema^ Linn.), half an inch long, spins 
its web among the high clifis, and is one of the largest 
land-insects in the island. According to the author 
just quoted, nearly thirty species of the Araneae and 
PhcUangia have been noticed in West Iceland alone, 
whence we may conclude that the insect tribes even in 
this island would not be found deficient in number were 
they all described. 

Many radiated animals are known, as starfish, echini, 
and meduss. Among the polyps are some species of 


Actinis, hydne, serpularie, millepores, and other corali- 
ferous species. Some of the alcyonia and sponges are 
likewise found, though we are not aware that any use 
is made of them by the natives.* 

* The whole Fauna of thete conntries is by no means extensiTe. 
Fabricius enumerated 468 animals as Uving in Greenland, which 
have been increased bv subsequent investigations to upwards of 
600. The number in the different dasses is as follows : Mammalia 
33, Atos 60, Amphibia 1, Pisces 47, Mollusca 79, Crustacea 33, 
Insecta 82, Vermes 92, Zoophytes 79. In Iceland the whole num- 
ber named is 464, of which the Mammalia are 36, the Birds 107, 
the Fishes 47, the Insects only 126, MoUnsea 66, Crustacea 1^ 
Worms 31, and Zoophytes 33 ; the inferior classes of animals be- 
ing, as usually happens, the most imperfectly known. Tl^ birds 
of Faroe described by Landt and Graba amount to 99. 



Asnricultnre, in Iceland, 65, 905. In 

Faroe, 332. 
Algerine pirates, 181. 
Aithinff, its institution, 100. Powers, 

ib. Loss of influence, 157. Its 

suppression, 184. 
America, its discovery, 258, 266. 
Angeklcolcs, magicians, 291. 
Are Frode's works, 149. 
Areson, Bishop, 173. Opposes the 

Reformation, 177. Executed, ib. 
Amald.biBhop of Oreenland,268-S70. 
Amgrim Jonas, his worlu, 180. 
Aurora Borealis, 237. 


Baal's River, Greenland, 243. 

Balder, an Icelandic deity, 114. 

Baula mountain, 86, 337. 

Berserker, 107. 

Bible, translation of, 175-179, 215. 

Biom Asbrandson, 266. 

Biom Thorieifson, 168. 

Birds of Iceland, dec. See Zoology. 

Bird-catching in Faroe, 330. 

Bird-rocks, 311, 404. 

Bishops, appointed in Iceland, 126. 
English bishops there, 167. Bishops 
in Greenland, 267. List of, 272. 

Boats of Greenlanders, 296. 

Bordoe Island, 309. 

Botany, general view <tf, 377« Of 
Faroe, 379. Of Greenland, 380. Of 
Iceland, 381-387. Comparison of, 
with other countries, 381. Trees, 
382. Distribution of plants, 383. 
Those near the hot-siudngs, 384. 
Useful plants. 385. 

Breida Fiord, 45. Hot-springs in, 51. 

Breidamark Jokul, 22. 


Calcedony, mineral, 366, 375. 

Cattle, nomber of, in Iceland, 206. 
Feeding, in Faroe, 334. 

Children, exposed by the heathen, 
111. Practice abolished, 124. Treat- 
ment of, by pirates, 123. Propor- 
tion of, to population in Iceland, 

Chri8tianity,introdnction of^into Ice- 
land, 106. General reception, 109. 
Influence, 128. Introduction into 
Greenland, 256 ; into Faroe, 316. 

Clergy of Iceland in ancient times, 
127. Married, 128. At Reforma- 

tion, 172. Present nnmber and 
emoluments, 211. Character, ib. 
Education, 2ia In Faroe, 337. 

Climate, of Iceland, 61-67. Not de- 
teriorated, 64. Of Greenland, 834. 
Of Faroe, 307. 

Colimisation of Iceland, 94-99. Man* 
ner in which conducted, 96. 

Colonies, loelaadic, in Greenland^ 
256. Where situated, 251. 

Columbus visits Iceland, 170. 

Commerce of Icelanders with Eng- 
land in 13th 5c 14th centuries, 165. 
Its benefits, 171* In 17th century, 
181, 182. Present state, 206, 207. 
Imports and exports, 206. Of 
Greenland, aoi. Of Faroe, 336. 

Crows direct Flold's voyage, 91. 
Various kinds of, 398. White, 399. 

Crusades preached in Iceland, 161. 


Desert, central, of Iceland, 25-27. 

Desert of Greenland, 226. 
Diseases, in Iceland, 204. Kriim, 

curious epidemic in Faroe, 335. 
Diupavog, town, 79. Veins at, 346. 
Dress, of Icelanders, 199. Of E^ui- 

maux, 296. Of Faroese, 323. 
Duels in Iceland, 118, 119. 
Drift-wood, 68. 


Earthquakes, list of, 362. Ele- 
vations by, 364. 
Education 01 Icelanders, 191, 212. 
Egede, Hans, misi^on of, 280-284. 
Einar, 268, 270. 

Elephant, fossil, in Iceland, 364. 
Elldborg, hiU, 86. 
Erik Raude, 255. 
Esquimaux. See Greenlanders. 
Eyaflord, Iceland, 81. 


Fabridus, Otto, missionary, 243. 

Farewell, Cape, 224, 244, 245. 

Farms, number in Iceland, 205. 

Faroe, description and history of, 
303-338. SituaUonandappearance, 
304. Mountains, 305. Lakes, 306. 
Currents, ib. Clhnate, 307. To- 

Sography, 309-314. Discovery, 
14. Feuds of chieft, 315. Sub- 
jugation by Norway, 316, 317> 
Plundered by pirates, 318. Re- 
formation, il». Inhabitants, their 



smMwance and dianeter, 320. 
E<uication, 3S1. Amuaonents, 
ib. Food, ass. I>res8, 323. 
Hooaes, 32^ Employments, 326. 
Population, 335. Commerce, 336. 
Ecclesiastical state, 337. Govern- 
ment, 338. Geology, 370-37& Bo- 
tany, 379. 

Faxa Fiord, 45. 

Feast of ancient Icelanders, 121. 

Fiords in Iceland, 43-45. Gknend 
appearance, 43. Fertility of shores, 
44. Principal Fiords, 45. In 
Greenland, 228. 

Firettalls, extraordinary display of, 

Fisheries, in Iceland, 193, 194, SOSw 

In Faroe, 326. 
Flatey Island, 84 ; MS. found in, ib. 
Floki sails to Iceland, 91. 
Flugumyra, burning of, 137. 
Forests, ancient, in Iceland, 65, 119. 
Foxes sailing on ice, 390. 
Fredericksthal, 244. 
Frobisher's voyafce, 278. 
Fnsloe Island, 309. 
Fuunar, immense numbers of, 407* 


Gardar, discovers Iceland, 91. 

Geology, of GreenUnd, 339. Of Ice- 
land, 340^0. Formations, 341. 
Trap rocks, 342. Thehr extent, 
344. Veins 344-347. Columnar 
structure, 346. Oscillations of the 
island, 347. Constituents of trap 
rocks, ib. Under division, 349. 
Neptunian strata, ib. Surtur- 
brand, 351. Upper division of 
trap. 354. Its moae of formation , 
ib. Trachyte rocks, 358. Cavern- 
ous lava, lb. Form of hills, 357. 
Formation of the island, 358. 
Lava, 359. Aqueous deposites. 
362. Raised beaches, 363. Mine- 
rals, 365, Calcedony, 366. Zeo- 
lites, ib. Iceland spar. 367. 6ul- 
;hur, 36&1 Geology of Faroe, 370. 
'rap rocks, 371. Coal, ib. Veins, 
372. Conglomerate, 373. Green- 
stone, 374. Bonebed,ib. Minerals, 
ib. Recent formation of zeolite. 375. 

Gerriksen, Bishop, death of, 168. 

Geysers, 52. History of, 52-54. 
Eruptions, 56. New Geyser, 56. 
Roaring Geyser, 59. Theory, 
[Note] ib. Deposites from, 362. 

Gissur, missionary to Iceland, 109, 

Gissur Thorwaldson, 135, 137. 

GUkciers, 20, 229. 

Glama Jokul, 24. 

Godar, magistrates, 102. 

(Jodthaab, missionary station, 242. 

Graab, his voyage to ureenland, 245. 

Granite, in Iceland, 364. 
Greenland, description of, SSS-253L 

Form and extent, 294. General 

features, ib. Hilb, S25. Interior, 

226. Coasts, S28. Gladera, 829. 

loebem, 230. Stracture of laad, 

233. Clfanato, 234. Topography, 

240-26a Icelandic colonies hi, 250. 

Geology, 339. Botany, 380. 
Greenland, history o^ 264-302. IMs- 

covery, 254. Colonisation, 866. 

Submission to Norway, 966, 871. 

Bishops of, 872. Destruction of 

colonies, 873. Attempts for their 

recovery, 876. Mfaaiona to» 880, 

Greenlanders, Mpeanmoe of, 844L 

Conversion, 867. Origin, 88.S. 

First arrival in coairtrjr* 887. 

Character, 288. Morality, 889. 

Religion, 890. No covemmeDt, 

891. Languageijas. 'Science, 893. 

Food, 894. Habitations, 89S. 

Dress, 296. ttarriases, 896. 

Amusements, 299. Employments, 

300. Commerce, 301. 
Gudbrand Tliorlakioii, 68, 179. 


Hakon, king of Norway, 138L Sob- 
dues Iceland, 139. Death of, 160, 

Haukadal, locality of theGaysers, 76. 

Heathen manners, 1 18-122. Mytho- 
logy, 112. 

Heimdcringla, the. 148. 

Hekla, mountain, 27-32. Erup- 
tions of, 89, 163, 361. 

Helgafell, andentheathen temp1e,8S. 

Historical works of Icelanders,— 
ancient, 147-151 ; modem, 818. 

Holum, town of, 82. 

Houses of Icelanders, ancient, 121. 

Hreppstiorar, magistrates, 100. 

Husevik, trading town, 81. 

Hverfisfliot River, Uva of, 40, 48. 

Hvitau River, 47, 49. 

Ice, floating, 65, 229. 

Iceblinks, huve, 243, 248. 

Iceland, 17-221. Situation and ex- 
tent, 18. Appearance, 19. Moun- 
tains, 20. volcanoea, 87-48, 360, 
361. Fiords. 4a Rivers, 46. 
Lakes, 50. Hot-springs, 61. Cli- 
mate, 61. Topography, 70-86. 
History, 87-186. Its discoverer 
90, 91. Government, 100. 806. 
Defects in government, 129. Sub- 
mission to King Hakon, 139. An- 
cient literature, 140. Effects <tf its 
subjugation, 157. Commerce with 
Enghmd. 165. Reformation, 175^ 
Revolution, 184. Prospects, 185^ 



Hay-harveftt, 195. Population, 

Icelanden, conrenion of, 106. Cha- 
racter and condition , 187-221. De- 
scent, 187. App^uranoe, 188. 
Character, 189. Ilospitality, 190. 
Piety, ib. Education, 191. Em- 
ployments, 192, 193, 20ff. Amuae> 
ments, 193. Fisheries, ib. Jour- 
neys, 196. Trade, 197. Food, 196. 
Dress, 199. Houses, 200. Diseases, 
204. Farms, 205. ManuiiActures, 
206. Religious condition, 210. 
Literature, 214. 

Iceland spar, 367. 

Ingolf, first colonist of Iceland, 94. 

Irland It Mikla, 264. 

Jameson's Land, coal in, 340. 
JSkuls, 20-25. Formation of, 20. 
Increase, 22, 83. Arrangement, 23. 
Jokul rivers, 46. 
Jolculsau, 47-49. 
Juliana's Hope, Oreenland, 843. 

Kaldau River, 49. 
Klofa Jolnils, 23. 
Krabla mountain, 32. Itsitmctore, 

33. Eruption in 1724, ib., 34. 
Kriim, cunous disease in Faroe, 335. 


Logerfliot, river and vale of, 48, 80. 

La^mann, bis duties, 103. List of, 
105, 129. 

LandnamalMk, the, 147* 150. 

Language, ancient, of Iceland, 
Refinement of, 143. Of poetry, 
153. Its connexion with the An- 
glo-Saxon, 155. Esquimaux lan- 
guage, 292. Faroese, 337. 

Lava, 359. . Its plants, 384. 

Laws, of Iceland, 100-106. 

Laxau River, 47* 

Leif, or Hiurleif, colonises Iceland, 
94. Killed by his slaves, 95. 

Leif Erikson, converts the Oreen- 
landers, 256. Sails to Yinland, 859. 

I^eprosy, in Iceland, 804. 

Lindoiow's voyage toOreenland, 878. 

Literature of Iceland,— ancient, 140; 
historical, 147. Poetry, 151. Its 
decline, 158. After the Reforma- 
tion, 179. Modem, 214. Causes 
of its general diffusion, 220. 


Magic. 116, 174. 188. 
Manufactures, in Iceland, 806. In 

Faroe, 326. 
Marlfarfliot !Uver, 49. 
Melur, or sand corn, 365. 

Meteorological phenomena, in Ice- 
land, 67. In Greenland, 837. 

Missions, to Oreenland, 880-884. 
Their influence, MS. 

Mogens Heinson, his voyage, 877. 

Moravians, in Greenland, 8^ 

Moss, Iceland, 197, 387. 

Mountains, in Iceland, 80-3S. In 
Greenland, 825, 840. In Faroe, 30ft. 

Mouse, crossing rivers, 391. 

Mule Syssels, 79. 

Myggenaes, island of, 318. 

Myre Syssel, 86. 

Mythology, Icelandic, 118-119. 

My vatn, volcano and lake, 32, 50. 

Naddody Aioovers Iceland, 90. 


Obsidian, or Icelandic agate, 38, 368. 

Odaada-hraun, or Horrid-lava, 3S. 

Oddor Gottachalkson, 175. 

Odin, 113. 

Oesteroe, island of, 310. 

Olaf Tryggvason, 108. 

Olaf, St, 124. His authority aeknoir- 

ledged in Greenland, 866. 
Olafscn and Povelsen, 817. 
Ordeal, trial by, 118. 


Papar, andent Christians, 79, 93. 
Papey, island of, 80. 
Pauperism, laws regarding, 101. 
Pirates, 119, 181. 318. 
Plants, fossil, in Icehwd, 358. 
Poetry, of Icelanders, 151. Its lan- 

ffuam, 153. Metrical forms, 154. 

Mooem poetry. 819. 
Population, of Icdand, 801. Its flue- 

tuations, 803. Of Faroe, 335. 
Pufllns, immense number of, 406. 


Rafhtinnuilall mountain, 38. 
Reformation, in Iceland, its causes, 

178. Itssuccess,]75w Its effects, 179. 
Refraction, effects of, 839, 252, 
Reikholt, remains of, 73. 
Reildavik, capital of Iceland, 71. 

Fair at, 72. Ingolf settles in, 95. 
Reptilei, none in Iceland or Faroe. 

Roads in Iceland, 44. 
Runes, their use and origin, 144. 


Sagas, thrir origin and diaracter,148. 
Time when written, 144. Subjects 
of, 145, 147. Poetic sagas, 152. 

School, at Bessestad, 213; at Thort- 
iiavn, 321. 

Scoresby's voyage, 849. 


Seals, hmiMiif, in GfMDiaDd, 900. la 
Faroe,3». NataiBlhiatonr 0^,902. 

Betolokkar, or oonncnled pulan, SiL 

Sheep-thearing, 196. 

SiMlb, fDMUTin loelaad, 963, 964. 

Bigmcnid Brettown, Slfi. 

Sbldf, or Midoot bardi, 141, 148. 
Chief ones, I A3. Extinction of, IfiB. 

RknUiolt, mmh*"^ ^ »OT ittiil of leeliuid, 

Bkaptaa River, 48. 

BicaptaafeUs SyMelt, 78. 

Skaptar Jblnu, eruption of, 98-4S. 

Lava ttom it, 40. Ravages, 42. 
Slorellinn, or Esqoimauz, 200, 273. 
Skule, Jarl, 133. 
Slavery, in Iceland, 120. 
Small'pox, its ravages, 183. 
Sneefield mountain, 24, 84. 
Bnorro Sturleson, 132. Death and 

character, 135. His writings, 148. 
Springs, hot, 51-410, 233, 908. On 

Krabla.33. On Torfo Jolral, 61. 

Analysis of, 60. Plants near them, 

Springs, acid, 60. 
Springs, in Faroe, 306. 
Stank-Elven River, 49. 
Stappen, rocks at, 85. 
Stephensen, Cliiflf-justioe, 219. 
Store Dimon, island of, 312. 
Sturle Sieghvatson, 134. 
Sturle Thordson, 140. 
Sturlunga, contests of, 131. 
Suderoe, island of, 313. 
Sulphur mines, 369. 
Burtshellir, cave of, 74. 
Surturbrand, a mineral, 351. 
Swan, wild or whistUng, 401. 


Temples, heathen, 115. 

Thangbrand, a misdonaiy, 106. 

Thingvalla, lake and plain of, 50, 77* 

Thor, the fisivourite deity of the Ice- 
landers, 103, 114. 

Thorgeir, 110, 111. 

Thorlakson, John, transhUor of Mil- 
ton in Iceland, 219. 

Thorshavn, capital of Faroe, 310. 

Thorwald Kodranson, first mission- 
ary in Iceland, 106. 

Thorwald, 260. His death, 261. 

Thrand, Faroese chief, 315-317. 

Thule, not Iceland, 89. 

Thunder, rare fai Iceland, 64. In 

Faroe, 308. 
Trap rocks. See Ctoology. 
Trouadynfer, volcano, 35. 


UMiot, the Icelandic legislator, lOO. 

Uppemavik, colony of, in Grueu 

of, i 


Taagoe Idand, 312. 

Yidalen Jon, his writings, 215. 

Tikingr, or pirates, 119. 

YhUand, ito history, 258-265. Its 
situatton, 266. 

Vogdbefg, or bird-rocks, 311, 404. 

Yolcanoes, 25, 27-42. Eruptions of, 
35-42. Hekla, 27-31. Krabla, 32. 
Herdobreid, 35. Submarine vol- 
canoes, 37* Skaptar Jokul, 38-42. 
List o( eruptions, 29, 361. Linear 
arrangement, 367, 368. 


West-fiords, district of, 84. 

Westmanna Islands, 37, 78. Plun- 
dered by pirates, 181. 

Whales, 396. Ga'ing whale, 327, 
995. Beaked whale, ^9. 

Willows in loehmd, 386. 

Winds, in Iceland, 63. In Greoiland, 
237. In Faroe, 308, 309. 

Women, condition of, in ancient Ice- 
land, 120. 


Zeni, his voyage to Iceland, 163. 

ZeoUtic minerals, 366, 375. 

Zoology, 388-412. General view of, 
389. Mammalia, 390-396. Rein, 
deer, 390. Fox, ib. Bear, 391. 
Mouse, ib. Seals, 392. Walrus, 
393. Dolphins, 394. Narwal,39o. 
Whales, 396. Falcons, 397. Owl, 

398. Crows, ib. Raven, ib. Grouse, 

399. Finches, ib. Wild swan, 401. 
Ducks, 402. Eider-duck, ib., 404. 
Gregarious birds, 404. Puain,405. 
Auk, ib. Cormorant, ib. Terns, 
406. Gulls, ib. Fulmar, HYJ, 
Reptiles (in Greenland), 408. 
Fishes, ib. Salmon, ib. Cod, 194, 
409. Remora, ib. Sharks, 41U. 
Molluscous animals, ib. Crusta- 
ceouB ammals, 411. Insects, ib. 


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